RTI AMENDMENT, 2019: THE CONTENTIOUS BILL

RTI AMENDMENT, 2019: THE CONTENTIOUS BILL

INTRODUCTION

The Right to Information Act, commonly known as RTI Act, 2005 came into effect on October 12, 2005 after attaining assent of the President on 12th June 2005. This act set out regime to disclose the relevant information of public authorities. It bounds all such authorities which come under the ambit of the act to furnish information on request by any person expeditiously. This revolutionary Act unveils the functioning of public authorities by giving Right to Information to every individual across the nation. The Act is quintessential part of Article 19 (a) of Constitution of India which ensures the Fundamental Right to Speech and Expression. However, the lacking point is without having the complete information of any regard, this Fundamental Right becomes vague since a person cannot express his views until he has appropriate information. In addition to this, the RTI Act has been helpful in curbing the corruptive activities irregularity in service and misusing the powers of public authorities. The RTI Act was enacted with 150 amendments doing away with the erstwhile act and the latest amendment bill was tabled in parliament which has been passed and has been waiting for the assent of the President.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Constitution of India guarantees the Right to Speech and Expression to every citizen but this Right was ambiguous in case of public authorities. This lacuna was firstly felt by Morarji Desai, led Janta Party. He made a commitment to bring transparency and accountability in public authorities. Pursuant to his commitment, he constituted a ‘Working Group’ to check the Officer Secrets Act, 1923; if it could be modified so as to facilitate grater information to public. Sadly, the working group made ‘no change’ recommendation. After that, in 1994, Mazadoor Karamchari Sewa Sangh (an organisation of workers) started a campaign for information concerning development works in rural Rajasthan. This movement gave rise to law ‘Right to Information’ in 2000. Gradually, many initiatives took place in 1996 by Indian National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. Even then there was no central legislation so to bridge the gap the NDA Government introduced the Freedom of Information, 2000 in Parliament. It was passed on 4th December 2002 and it received the assent of the President of India on 6th January, 2003. Eventually in 2004 National Advisory Council was appointed to monitor the implementation of the government policy and law. This council recommended changes to the existing Freedom of Information, 2002. Ultimately, The Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed. Since then it has been helpful in exercising the Fundamental Right enshrined under Article 19(a) of Constitution by common people. However, some amendments are being proposed in this Act with respect to the officers only.

AMENDMENT PROPOSED

The Right To Information Amendment Bill, 2019 proposed three amendments to the original Act, 2005. These amendments are proposed with respect to the officers concerned with the State and Central Information Commissions. To contemplate the changes made, one should be aware of these authorities. Central Information Commission was set up under the Government of India and comprised of Chief Information Commissioner and Ten Information Commissioner. It entertains the complaints where individuals are denied to receive information due to either non appointment of concerned or refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.

The State Information Commission was recognised by the State Government through a Gazette notification. The Commission is comprised of State Chief Information Commissioner and Ten State Information Commissioners. These officers are appointed by the Governor on the reference of the committee consisting of the Chief Minister as Chairperson, the leader of the opposition in the Legislative Assembly and state Cabinet Minister designated by the Chief Minister.

The amendment proposed in this Act is concerned with the tenure, salary and deduction in salary of the Chief Information Commissioners both at Centre and State level. These are as follows:-

1. Term of office

The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the Central and State level holds the office for a term of five years. The amendment removed this tenure and states that the Central Government will notify the term of office.

2. Salary of Office Holders

The Second Amendment is made in respect of salary. In the Act the salary of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the central level is equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Like wise the salary of the CIC and ICs at the State level is equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the State Government. The Amendment Act changed it and gave this power to Central Government to determine salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the Central and State Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners.

3. Deduction In Salary

The last amendment made in deduction of salary which is earlier 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,

(iv) Company owned or controlled by the Central or State government.

The Bill is intending to make the Central ruling party the decider of the tenure, salaries, etc. to their will and fancy.

The Right to Information Amendment Bill, 2019 was approved by Lok Sabha on 21st July 2019. Then it was referred to Rajya Sabha which passed it on 25th July,2019. And the assent of the President is still awaited.

Conclusion

It can be concluded from contemplating the amendment proposed that Central Government usurp the powers of State and Legislature. This amendment is being highly opposed since it takes away the autonomy and freedom of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at Centre and State level. It is being criticized as this amendment gives the Central Government direct control over the Chief Officers of the Commissions which can be arbitrary in some instances as power to furnish the information will be provided ultimately by Central ruling party. However, this latest amendment has raised many valid questions. Due to all the controversies the bill has not yet signed by the President of India.

References:-

  • Right To Information Act, 2005.
  • https://selflearn.co/pick-of-week-post/right-to-information-rti-act-2005-for-upsc-civil-services-exam.
  • https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/state-information-commission.
  • https://onlinerti.com/about-rti
  • Image Credits – www.thehimalayantimes.com