Opposition fears dilution bid
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of State and Central Information Commissioners, will be introduced in the Lok Sabha in the monsoon session beginning on Wednesday.
The Bill is being opposed by several Opposition political parties and RTI activists, who warn that the amendments will dilute the RTI law and compromise the independence of the Information Commissions.
The current law gives Information Commissioners a tenure of five years and salaries which match those of Election Commissioners. The Bill -— which was only circulated to lawmakers on Tuesday morning — seeks to amend that.
“The functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the central and state Information Commissions are totally different,” says the statement of objects and reasons attached to the amendment Bill.
It argues that while the Election Commission is a constitutional body, the Information Commissions are statutory bodies, and their differing mandates mean that “their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.”
Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), termed the move ridiculous.
“The decision to give the Information Commissioners a high stature and protected tenures is meant to ensure their independence, and was approved by Parliament when the law was passed,” Ms. Bhardwaj told The Hindu. “This is simply a way of giving the Central government a greater grip on Information Commissioners, who have been giving orders which the government finds inconvenient.”
NCPRI plans to hold a protest march in the capital and nationwide agitations against the Bill on the opening day of the monsoon session. Several opposition parties, including Congress, CPI, CPI (M), TMC and RJD, plan to join in a Jan Manch on Wednesday.
“The amendments are one more Modi nail in the RTI coffin,” Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said.
The amendments “will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions…and fundamentally weaken the institution”, said a statement by NCPRI. It added that the Centre “usurping” the power to decide the tenure and salaries of State Information Commissioners raised key issues of federalism.
The NCPRI has also protested the fact that the secrecy around the amendments has prevented any meaningful debate or public engagement with the proposed changes. RTI requests asking about the content of the amendments over the past month went unanswered. “It’s ironic that the process of amending a law meant to bring transparency itself lacks transparency”, said Ms. Bhardwaj.
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