The controversial bill to amend the Right To Information Act was not tabled in the upper house today, with the government doing a last-minute rethink about its chances. Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which only give issue-based support to the government, have decided to side with the opposition in this instance.
Though the bill sailed through the Lok Sabha on Monday, opposition parties contend that it dilutes the landmark transparency law and want it to be discussed and scrutinised further by a parliamentary committee.
The proposed changes in the RTI Act 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, the bill says.
Activists say having the government control salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners is a coercive measure that will interfere with their freedom to make independent decisions.
The government still lacks the numbers to push through the bill in the upper house without help from the non-aligned parties. The NDA has 116 members in Rajya Sabha, five short of the majority mark.
The BJD and the TRS together have 13 members. But they are unlikely to budge.
"We are strongly opposed to the Bill. It not only dilutes the Law but downgrades the office of the Information Commissioners and their chief both at the state and the Centre," Keshav Rao, senior leader of the TRS told NDTV.
The opposition parties held a meeting today and listed seven bills that they want to go to a special committee for deliberations. "I would like to tell the government that whether the RTI bill comes today or tomorrow, we will insist it goes to a special committee. I am just informing you in advance," Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters after the meeting.
Senior Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien told NDTV, "We demand that RTI amendment Bill be sent to a Select Committee for future deliberation".
The government has repeatedly said the changes will not influence information commissioners and it is only trying to remove some anomalies in the law.
"We are not interfering and will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution," said Jitendra Singh, the minister for personnel department.