- Parties like BJD, TRS, YSR Congress have agreed to back RTI bill: sources
- BJP and its allies are six short of a majority (118) in the Rajya Sabha
- Government will have 129 votes in favour after support of parties
The Right to Information (RTI) bill seeking significant changes to the transparency law has passed the Rajya Sabha test despite the opposition's objections, with the government bringing the fence-sitters on board. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly spoke to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for the support of his Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
A motion by the opposition to send the amendment to a select committee for greater scrutiny was negated by 117 members voting against it opposed to 75 voting in its favour.
The Congress, following a ruckus in the House after voting on whether to send the amendment to a select committee, had walked out of the Rajya Sabha. The proposed law was then passed through voice vote.
The RTI bill provoked sharp exchanges in the House on Thursday, with the opposition demanding that it be referred to a select committee. The proposed law was passed on Monday in the Lok Sabha, where the government enjoys a majority.
"Parliament has to scrutinise. It needs time for scrutiny. This is not a T-20 match," Trinamool Congress member Derek O'Brien said.
Another member in the opposition benches quipped that the bill was "not like making Dosa".
Sources say non-aligned parties like the BJD, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YSR Congress agreed to support the RTI bill, greatly helping the government in an opposition-dominated house.
"We will support the RTI (Amendment) Bill... It is not correct to demand that all bills be sent to the Standing Committee or Select Committee," Vijaysai Reddy of the YSR Congress had told NDTV.
"We will question the government about our concerns and if we get a satisfactory response, we will think about it," the BJD's Prasanna Acharya had told NDTV, when asked about supporting the RTI.
The TRS, which had earlier opposed the bill, altered its stand reportedly after Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister and BJP president, phoned its chief, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
Sources in the Congress had conceded that the numbers are stacked up against the opposition and the RTI amendment bill is likely to go through.
After five members retiring yesterday, the BJP and its allies are six short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, where it has always faced an opposition wall in pushing legislation.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has strongly objected to the changes the government has proposed to the RTI law.
The centre, she said in a statement, was "hell-bent on completely subverting the historic RTI Act" and the law, "prepared after wide-spread consultations and passed unanimously by parliament, now stands on brink of extinction."
The Congress and other opposition parties had resolved in a meeting to demand in the Rajya Sabha that seven of 16 pending bills, including the RTI Amendment Bill, be sent to a select committee.
The RTI changes will allow the government to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of the Information Commissioners at the centre and states.
Opposition parties, which have termed the amendment the "RTI Elimination Bill", argue that authorising the government to take a call on the employment and pay of RTI authorities will take away their independence.
The opposition argues that even honest officials will stop disclosing sensitive information if their job and salaries are at stake.