- Bill to amend Right to Information (RTI) Act passed by Lok Sabha
- Bill proposes changes to salaries, tenures of Information Commissioners
- Amid allegations of dilution, opposition called it "RTI Elimination Bill"
The controversial bill to amend the landmark transparency law, the Right to Information Act, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday 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, argues that there is no question of degrading the information commissioners and it is only trying to remove some anomalies in the act. "We are not interfering and will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution," said Jitendra Singh, the minister for personnel department.
Moving the bill, which was tabled in the house on July 19, for passage, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Jitendra Singh said that the current tenure for both the Chief Information Commissioners and the Information Commissioners is five years but the Bill seeks to remove this provision and give the Central government the power to notify the terms of office.
"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 on Monday, 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.
"By degrading them, making them subservient to the central government, making their terms and conditions, salaries subservient... not just Centre, but also the state, they are actually weakening a very important leg of the RTI," said activist Nikhil Dey.