UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said on Tuesday that the Centre is adamant on subverting the RTI Act which now stands on the "brink of extinction", a day after Lok Sabha passed amendments to the Act amid strong opposition protests.
Lok Sabha on Monday passed the bill amending the Right To Information Act, amid objections by the Opposition which alleged that it was an attempt to undermine the law and make the transparency panel a "toothless tiger".
The bill proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of state and Central Information Commissioners.
Calling the Centre's decision to amend the RTI Act a "bad move", Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday said it will end the independence of the Central and states' Information Commissions.
"The decision to amend the RTI Act is a bad move. It will end the independence of Central and States' Information Commissions, which will be bad for RTI," Kejriwal tweeted. Before coming into politics, Kejriwal had actively worked for the implementation of the Right to Information Act.
On Friday, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, termed the draft law a "threat to the independence of the Central Information Commissioner (CIC)".
While tabling the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh had asserted it would ease delivery of RTI Act and described it as enabling legislation for administration purposes.
However, transparency activists have slammed the government's move to amend the Act to take away statutory parity of Information Commissioners with Election Commissioners in terms of tenure and service conditions, saying it is an attack on the independence of the panel.
Here are the key features of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019: Term of Information Commissioners: Under the 2005 Act, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) are appointed at the national and state level to implement the provisions of the Act. The 2005 Act also states that the CIC and other ICs (appointed at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years. The 2019 Bill removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs. Determination of salary: The 2005 Act states that the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively. The 2019 Bill seeks to amend these provisions to state that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government. Deductions in salary: The Act states that at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension.
Previous government service includes service under: (i) the central government, (ii) state government, (iii) corporation established under a central or state law, and (iv) government company owned or controlled by the central or state government.
The Bill removes these provisions.
Under the RTI Act, 2005, public authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning in order to promote transparency and accountability. Public authorities include bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification such as ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators. It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government.
The Act has basically established a three tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act within 30 days of the request made at the first level.
-with inputs from agencies