Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

RTI Bill to be placed in monsoon session

The News

  • The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018 will be introduced in the Lok Sabha.

 

About RTI act 2005

  • Right to Information Act 2005 mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.
  • The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
  • With this Act, an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
  • The Act is a big step towards making the citizens informed about the activities of the Government.

 

About CIC

  • The Central Information Commission has been constituted with in 2005 under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
  • The Commission has certain powers and functions that broadly relate to adjudication inĀ second appealĀ for giving information; direction forĀ record keeping, suomotu disclosures receiving and enquiring into aĀ complaintĀ on inability to file RTI etc;imposition ofĀ penaltiesĀ andĀ Monitoring and ReportingĀ including preparation of an Annual Report.
  • The decisions of the Commission are final and binding.
  • Tenure:
    • The Chief Information Commissioner/Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of 5 (five) years or till he attains the age of 65 years.
    • The Chief Information Commissioner shall not be eligible for reappointment.
    • The Information Commissioner shall be eligible for appointment as the Chief Information Commissioner in the manner specified in sub section (3) of Section 12 of the Act.
    • Where the Information Commissioner is appointed as Chief Information Commissioner, his term of office shall not be more than five years in aggregate as the Information Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner.
  • The current law gives Information Commissioners tenure of five years and salaries which match those of Election Commissioners.
  • The decision to give the Information Commissioners a high stature and protected tenures was meant to ensure their independence, and was approved by Parliament when the law was passed.

Ā 

Proposed amendments

  • The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018 proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of State and Central Information Commissioners.
  • The statement of objects and reasons attached to the amendment Bill says:
    • The functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the central and state Information Commissions are totally different.
    • It argues that while the Election Commission is a constitutional body, the Information Commissions are statutory bodies, and their differing mandates mean that ā€œtheir status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.ā€

 

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Concerns

  • The Bill is being opposed by several Opposition political parties and RTI activists, who warn that the amendments will dilute the RTI law and compromise the independence of the Information Commissions.
  • This is simply a way of giving the Central government a greater grip on Information Commissioners, who have been giving orders which the government finds inconvenient.
  • It may influence the freedom of officials to make decisions that go against the government.
  • The amendments will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions and fundamentally weaken the institution.
  • The Centre ā€œusurpingā€ the power to decide the tenure and salaries of State Information Commissioners may also raise key issues of federalism.
  • The secrecy around the amendments has prevented any meaningful debate or public engagement with the proposed changes.
  • RTI requests asking about the content of the amendments over the past month went unanswered.
  • Itā€™s ironic that the process of amending a law meant to bring transparency itself lacks transparency.
  • It is the violation of the pre-legislative consultation policy, adopted in 2014, which mandates that all draft legislation (including subordinate legislation) be placed in the public domain for 30 days, as officials refused to part with information on the nature of the proposed changes.
  • The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI)plans to hold a protest march in the capital and nationwide agitations against the Bill on the opening day of the monsoon session.
  • Several opposition parties, including Congress, CPI, CPI (M), TMC and RJD, plan to join in a Jan Manch.

 

Way forward

  • Instead of diluting the essence of law, the government should focus on strengthening the law by:
    • Suo Moto disclosure of information on public websites.
    • Reducing the pendency of RTI cases.
    • Effective implementation of the law.
    • Bringing all major political and administrative institutes under the ambit of RTI, e.g. political parties and their funding, BCCI, Judiciary to an extent, etc.

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