The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019 tabled by the Centre in the Lok Sabha on Friday seeks to amend the RTI Act 2005 to dilute the statutorily fixed tenure and service conditions of Information Commissioners.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RTI Activists cry foul
When the same amendments were proposed by the Government last year, RTI activists Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj etc. had expressed their objections to the amendments. Former CIC Shailesh Gandhi opposed the move to amend the RTI Act saying that the statue was best in the world.
"We have one of the best RTI Acts in the world. NOBODY should bring any changes in it. WE need better implementation. Focus on that," Gandhi had tweeted.
The National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information had issued a press release condemning the proposed amendments, stating :
"The principle of according a high stature, and protecting the terms of service by equating it to functionaries of constitutional bodies, is routinely adopted for independent statutory oversight bodies, including the Central Vigilance Commission and the Lokpal.
The amendments seek to empower the Central government to decide the tenure and salary and allowances of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions through rules. This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner."
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