- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019
What to study?
For prelims: key features of RTI, amendments proposed and the need.
For main: significance of RTI, issues present and measures to address these issues.
Context: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that amends the Right to Information Act, 2005 has been introduced in Lok Sabha.
However, former information commissioners and RTI activists have come out strongly against the move by the central government to amend the RTI Act, 2005.
- The Centre shall have the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of Information Commissioners at central as well as state levels.
- Term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners: appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.
- While the original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as “the same as that of an Election Commissioner”, and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as “the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government”, the amendment proposes that these “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.
Why is it being opposed?
- The original Act had quantified the tenures, and defined the salaries in terms of existing benchmarks. The amendments are being viewed as implying that, in effect, the terms of appointment, salaries and tenures of the Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners can be decided on a case-to-case basis by the government. This will take away the independence of the RTI authorities.
- Therefore, the Bill is being seen as a “threat to the independence” of the Central Information Commissioner.
- By diminishing the status of the CIC, IC and State CIC from that of a Supreme Court judgewould reduce their ability to issue directives to senior government functionaries.
- The amendments would empower the Centre to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of information commissioners of the Central and also State Information Commissions. This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact the ability of commissioners to function in an independent manner.
- The government has brought about the Bill in complete secrecy and there have been no public consultations on the Bill, which will impact the fundamental right to information of the citizens of the country.
What are the government’s stated grounds for bringing the amendments?
The statement of objects says “the mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly”.
CIC has been given the status of a Supreme Court Judge, but his judgments can be challenged in the High Courts.
Therefore, the amendments Have been brought to correct certain anomalies in the RTI Act. It does not dilute the Act in anyway and it was passed in a hurry in 2005. RTI Amendments would strengthen the overall RTI structure.
Over the last 14 years, how far has the RTI Act served the purposes for which it was introduced?
The RTI Act is regarded as one of the most successful laws of independent India. It has given ordinary citizens the confidence and the right to ask questions of government authorities. According to estimates, nearly 60 lakh applications are being filed every year. It is used by citizens as well as the media. The law is seen as having acted as a deterrent for government servants against taking arbitrary decisions.
Mains Question: Discuss the role played by key stakeholders under the Right to Information Act of India.