The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019 which seeks to amend the RTI Act 2005.
Speaker Om Birla announced that the motion to vote on bill was passed with 218 'yes' votes as against 79 'no' votes.
At present, the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners have a fixed term of five years. The amendment bill proposes to change the period of office of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner as "for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government". In the same manner, the term of office of State Information Commissioners is also proposed to be curtailed by the amendment. This is through amendments proposed to Section 16.
Section 27 of the Act is proposed to be amended to give rule making power to the Central Government to determine the pay, allowances and service conditions of Information Commissioner.
This means that the tenure of the Information Commissioner can be fixed as per the executive rules framed by the Central Government.
Further, the amendment gives power to the Central Government to fix the salary and allowances of Chief Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners.
As per the present RTI Act, the salary and allowances of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners respectively, which are fixed as per provisions of the Constitution.
The RTI Act has consciously given Information Commissioners status and privileges equal to Election Commissioner in order to ensure that they function independently and autonomously.
As the reason for the amendment the bill states, "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".
While introducing the Bill, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension, said that Information Commission was a statutory body and it was an anomaly to equate it to a constitutional body like Election Commission. Making Information Commissioners equal to the status of Election Commissioners means that they are at par with Supreme Court judges. However, the orders of Information Commissioners can be challenged in High Court. Therefore, there is an apparent anomaly in the status of Information Commissioners, which needs to be rectified, explained the Minister.
Opposition MPs expressed their reservations about the Bill and demanded that it be send to a standing committee. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that the amendment was in effect an 'RTI Elimination Bill, as the protection given to Information Commissioners is proposed to be taken away. He said that the use of RTI has made the government uncomfortable on many occasions, and therefore it is keen to destroy the autonomy of Information Commission.
Professor Saugata Roy from the TMC said that the amendments weaken the authority of Information Commissioners. MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi said that the amendment affecting State Information Commissioners is an inroad into the powers of States. A Raja from DMK, N K Premachandran from RSP etc. spoke in opposition of the Bill.
In response to the opposition, Minister Jitendra Singh said that the reservations were unfounded. The amendment is merely an enabling legislation and government has no ulterior motives. The attempt of the government is not to undermine the autonomy of Information Commissioners, but to bring in uniformity in services, said the Minister. He also pointed out that the Sections 12(4) of the Act, which ensure the autonomy of Information Commissioners, has been left untouched by the amendments. The process of appointment of Information Commissioners as specified in Section 12(3) has also been kept the same, the Minister added.
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