BJP-led central government is planning to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, during the ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament. However, it has drawn flak from activists who claim that it could be misused, as it dilutes the law that ensures accountability of the public institutions.
According to a PTI report, the proposed amendment will ensure greater say of central government in the matters related to salaries and service rules of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SIC).
Currently, CICs and ICs are treated at par with the head of the Election Commission in terms of service years and salary and other benefits. It also means a fixed tenure of 5 years for CICs and ICs, which ensures their immunity from any intervention after the change in government.
So why’s it a big deal?
RTI activists fear the move is actually aimed at diluting the powerful law that ensures accountability of the public institutions. “The decision to give the Information Commissioners a high stature and protected tenures is meant to ensure their independence and was approved by Parliament when the law was passed,” Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) was quoted saying by MoneyControl.
But the government has a different opinion. As per the draft of the amendment, the functions carried out by the EC and information commissions are not only completely different but the nature of the two also differs. While the EC is a constitutional body, Information Commissions are statutory bodies.
The RTI activists are also baffled about the non-disclosure of amendments by the government in the months preceding the monsoon session.
What’s happened so far?
A notice of intention has been given to introduce ‘The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018’ in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passage during the current session of Parliament, Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.
The move has drawn protests from opposition parties and RTI activists have warned of launching a nation-wide agitation against the proposed amendment.
Even though the bill was in the list of business for the day on Thursday, the government did not introduce the Bill in the Rajya Sabha following protests.
Significance of RTI Act
After the landmark act was passed in 2005 by the UPA government, the legislation has been crucial in unearthing massive scams, corruption and failures of the government institutions. It has also ensured a low-cost mechanism for the public to raise questions over government’s expenditure and bring the information to the larger public.
Predictably, the law has also taken a toll on activists who work day and night to expose irregularities and failures of the administration. Harassment and threatening of RTI activists is a common knowledge but sometimes their work has also invited fatal consequences.
According to Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative database, 73 RTI activists in have been murdered since 2006 while six of them have been driven to suicide. The data also shows that 166 cases of assault and 183 cases of harassment and threats against the activists have also been reported.