What started out as a row of RTIs inquiring about the educational qualifications of PM Narendra Modi has turned into a long battle between the Central Government and the Central Information Commission.
The NDA government is now aiming at amending the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act. The move has faced harsh criticism and opposition from RTI activists and the Opposition in the Parliament. The activists claim that the move will “dilute” the RTI Act. The Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha today during the
on-going Monsoon Session of Parliament.
The reform proposed by the government intends to introduce changes to sections related to ranks, salaries, and tenure of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. Currently, the salaries and tenures of central and state information commissioners are statutorily protected as they are provided in the RTI Act and are same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner. The proposed amendment also states that the information commissioners, both at the Centre and in states, “shall hold office for such term as may be prescribed by the Central government instead of five years”.
Stating “objects and reasons” for these amendments, the Central Government has said, “The functions being carried out by Election Commission of India and the Central, and State Information Commissions are totally different . . . hence their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.”
“This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner. The status conferred on commissioners under the RTI Act is to empower them to carry out their functions autonomously and require even the highest offices to comply with the provisions of the law,” Anjali Bhardwaj of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) said.
“It is a move aimed at completely wrecking the autonomy and independence of the RTI Act. When the Act itself provides for the salaries and tenures of the information commission, why is there a need for the government to meddle with it?” asked RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.
The Congress also accused the BJP of “destroying” institutions and legislation of transparency and accountability in the country. “The Congress will oppose any amendment to the RTI Act,” Congress spokesperson Rajeev Gowda said.
Senior CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechuri said the RTI Act came into existence from people’s struggle and the party would work within Parliament and outside it to ensure that no amendment was made to it.