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The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the RTI Amendment Bill, 2019, which empowers the central government to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of the Information Commissioners at the centre and states. The Bill caused a great uproar, with the opposition accusing the government of stripping autonomy from constitutional offices. The Bill will soon be tabled in the Rajya Sabha where the government is in a minority.


We present the black, grey and white sides of the controversial bill:


Government

“Why RTI is such a powerful instrument. Because it is very simple”

A critical piece of legislation that seeks to amend the Right to Information (RTI), was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday. The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, allows the central government to decide the terms, salaries and allowances of chief information commissioners and information commissioners at both the central and state levels.


According to the present Act, the Central Information Commissioner has been given the status of a Supreme Court Judge. However, his judgments can be challenged in the high courts. The government seeks to amend this anomaly in the RTI Act, which it believes was overlooked by the government in 2005.

The government asserts that the amendment will not give them any rule-making powers and will lead to greater transparency in the system while providing maximum information to the public. Defending the bill, Union Minister of State, Jitendra Singh has said that the government made these changes to streamline functioning and remove anomalies.


Opposition

“Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master


Many critics and opposition leaders feel that the government is trying to dilute the effectiveness of the RTI Act with the Amendment Bill 2019. By having the power to decide the terms, salary, allowances and appointment of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and other Information Commissioners at both centre and state level, the central government could effectively threaten the CIC and ICs with dismissal or reduction in salary. It could also lure them by term extensions or a raise in salary.


The interference and the pressure of the central government would not provide a transparent and unbiased environment for the CIC and ICs to function and will thus erode the independence and autonomy of the institution. This, the critics claim, could help the government block uncomfortable RTI queries.


Centre

“The right to know is the right to live”


People believe that the government has used its overpowering majority in Lok Sabha to pass the RTI Bill. They suggest that the RTI Amendment Bill should be sent to a select panel for scrutiny as the opposition alleges that the government has been passing bills in the Parliament without any scrutiny. However, the power to challenge the Central Information Commissioner’s judgments in lower courts – despite having the status of a Supreme Court judge – needs to be amended. Moreover, the amendment in Section 16, giving powers to the Central Government to control the appointment of Information Commissioners is a direct threat to federalism.


It is believed that the amendments will dilute the powers and functioning of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners, who form the pillar of the RTI Act.


By Pragun Aggarwal

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