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Published On: Mon, Jul 22nd, 2019

LS passes RTI Amendment Bill amid protests from opposition

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505016-pti-parliament-new-picNEW DELHI : The controversial bill to amend the landmark transparency law, the Right to Information Act, was passed by the Lok Sabha today amid opposition allegations that it was being diluted.
The opposition — which has dubbed the bill “RTI Elimination Bill” and wants to send it to a select committee for further scrutiny — is hoping to get support in the Rajya Sabha, where the government still lacks the numbers.
The proposed changes involve the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners at the states and centre: Information commissioners — who currently have five-year tenures – will have “terms as may be prescribed by the central government”. Their salaries, instead of being on par with that of Election Commission officials, will be decided by the Central government.

There are no such provisions available under the RTI Act at present. Activists say this is a coercive measure that will interfere with their freedom to make independent decisions.”This bill removed the to greatest armors of democracy, it basically demolishes the RTI Act,” Congress’s Shashi Tharoor said.
The government, however said”We are not interfering and will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution,” said Jitendra Singh, the minister for personnel department.”The salary for the CIC will be the same as Chief Election Commissioner. But the bill seeks to change this and allows the government to fix the salary,” he said.
“This is an RTI elimination Bill and a there is a fallacious argument being raised about trying to bring them at par with High Courts, which does not work since the decisions of the President and PM are also contested in High Courts,” Shashi Tharoor said.

Earlier today, more than 10 opposition parties, including Telangana’s ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi, wrote a letter to the Rajya Sabha secretariat, demanding that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee of Parliament which can study it and suggest changes.

Activists took to the streets in Delhi, arguing that the amendments are an attempt to dilute the provisions for disclosure of information.

“These bodies play a very important role and these amendments are extremely regressive, because they are trying to control these institutions, trying to make them caged parrots by saying the tenure and salaries of the commissioners will be decided by the central government,” said activist Anjali Bhardwaj.
Terming the Bill a “deliberate” attempt to “weaken” the RTI framework and erode the independence of the CIC and Information Commissioners, he argued that it was brought to Parliament without any public debate on its contents and that it is a deliberate architectural change to roll back gains of the RTI, restrict its independence, and regressively reinforce power equations.

“Are you bringing this amendment because an Information Commissioner asked the PMO to reveal the PM’s educational details? What is the hurry in bulldozing every Bill without scrutiny? Why the government delaying constituting the parliamentary standing committees?” he asked.
Speaking in favour of the Bill, BJP’s Jagadambika Pal said this is a simple Bill seeking to change the tenure and salary.DMK’s A. Raja dismissed the government’s argument that the CIC cannot be equated with the CEC since the former is a statutory body, while the latter is a constitutional body.
“Today is a dark day for democracy. Democracy is a continuous process, it doesn’t end with elections,” he said.Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy said the government brought the amendment to “curtail” the powers of information commissioners.

Meanwhile, M Sridhar Acharyulu, former information commissioner with the Central Information CommissionAcharyulu warned that the Modi government would abolish the “legislative safeguard” guaranteed to these functionaries, denting their independence and making them subordinate to the government departments they are supposed to hold to account.

As for the bill removing the parity with the Election Commission, Acharyulu said: “(The) Supreme Court (had) proclaimed the RTI as the constitutional right emanating from Article 19(1)(a) which guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. The Election Commission enforces the right to vote, which is part of (the) expression right under Article 19(1)(a)….

“In a way, the CEC enforces only a small part of the expression right while the CIC is entrusted with the enforcement of a wider aspect of the expression right — the right to information.

In a related statement, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information accused the government of “wilfully misrepresenting an amendment to a basic feature of the law as a function of rule-making”.
(With Agency Inputs ).

 

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