RTI activists contend that the amendments, which was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday, will take away the autonomy and independence of the Information Commission.

RTI amendments will pave way for culture of bureaucratic controls Activist Aruna RoyPTI/File photo
news RTI Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 16:10

Amid opposition, the Lok Sabha passed the Right To Information (Amendment) Bill on Monday, and is pending with the Rajya Sabha. However, the upcoming amendments have been criticised by RTI activists as taking away the autonomy and independence of the Information Commission, and as a threat to the Act itself. In fact, former Chief Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu earlier told TNM that these amendments would render the RTI Act useless. 

“The RTI (Amendment) Bill puts the Central Government in control of the tenure and salaries of the Information Commission, both at the Centre and the States. It has been argued that it is just a procedural matter. But in fact, it will undermine the autonomy of the Act,” Aruna Roy, a noted activist, co-founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and Ramon Magsaysay award winner.  

The amendment states that the government would be able to decide both the tenure as well as the salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner as well as the Information Commissioners. They were treated equal to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, had a tenure of five years and were paid on par. 

“Tenure allows freedom to the commissioner to deal with the Act without fear of control of any supervisory officer, or a system that can impose punishment; either by way of transfer or terminating the services of the individual. By making the status equivalent to that of a civil servant, and when controls pass to the government,  the culture of bureaucratic controls and the ill effects of the pecking order come into play. Autonomy is critical for any organisation vested with the responsibility of oversight and monitoring the work of senior, and sometimes the most powerful public servants in the country,” said Aruna, whose Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan was one of the organisations that worked on the ground to build momentum for the original Act to come into place. 

She insists that for an RTI user, an independent Information Commission is important because that is the only independent appeal against bureaucratic connivance. “It becomes a critical instrumentality if a public information officer (PIO) denies information, and is upheld by the appellant authority in the first appeal within the department.  The second appeal lies in these cases, with the Information Commission. As per the Act in its original form, the Information Commission, by the virtue of its independence guaranteed by its security of tenure and pay, would have a structure to facilitate the exposing of corruption or malpractices, even at the highest level.” 

What has been sought to be amending the Act is the jeopardising of this independence, she adds. “Not only the law but its execution right down to the poor man asking for records of pensions and rations will be diluted. The Act, now famous all over the world and extolled, will crumble into a bureaucratic structure in collusion with the government. This amendment also seriously affects the constitutional norm of federalism, when the central government decides on control of the tenure and salaries of the State Information Commission,” she points out.

Explainer: Why we need to pay attention to upcoming amendments in RTI Act

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