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Amendments made to the Right to Information Act

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Amendments made to the Right to Information Act:


Context:

The Supreme Court has criticised the Union government for having not filed a reply to a petition by parliamentarian Jairam Ramesh challenging the amendments made to the Right to Information Act for over a year.

What’s the issue?

The petitioner argues that the amendments gave the Centre unparalleled powers to dictate the tenure, salaries and service conditions of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners as per its “whims and fancies”.

  • The petitioner contended that the RTI Amendment Act of 2019 and its Rules cripple the objectivity and independence of the Central Information Commission (CIC) by bringing under the yoke of the government.

What were the amendments?

  1. The Centre shall have the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of Information Commissioners at central as well as state levels.
  2. Term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners: appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.
  3. 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 these amendments are criticised?

  • The amendments are 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 judge would 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 held no public consultations on the Bill.

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.

key_points

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Definition of Public Authority under the act.
  2. Exceptions under the act.
  3. About Chief Information Commissioner.
  4. State Information Commissioners.
  5. Public Information Officers.
  6. Latest amendments.

Mains Link:

Discuss the role played by key stakeholders under the Right to Information Act of India.

Sources: the Hindu.