Former information commissioners and RTI activists have come out strongly against the move by the central government to amend the RTI Act, 2005.
The move that allows the government to fix the term of service of the information commissioners, they said, will end up making the law “another toothless tiger”.
Enacted in 2005, the RTI Act has defined both the time of service and the status of information commissioners. Once appointed, information commissioners — both state and central — will have a tenure of five years or till they attain the age of 65 years (which ever comes first). Also, salaries of the central information commissioners were kept equivalent to that of the chief election commission while those of state information commissioners equivalent to the chief secretary of the state.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday, does away with both the tenure and salary structure of information commissioners and instead give the central government carte blanche in deciding both.
While introducing the Bill, the government had cited that as orders of the information commissioners are open for challenge in high courts, equivalence of the information commissioners to the judges of high court was not right.
Once appointed, information commissioners, by virtue of the fixed tenure, could not be removed by the governor or the President except in cases of moral turpitude or insanity. RTI activists said by removing this clause, information commissioners will be left to the whims and fancies of the government.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar dismissed the arguments of the central government as weak. “Back in 2018, the salary structures of 19 quasi judicial administrative commissions were brought on par with that of Supreme Court and High Court judges. Interestingly, salaries of the judges were hiked six months after that. Why were the information commissioners left out then?” he asked.
The orders of the various quasi judicial bodies, Kumbhar said, could be challenged in lower courts. “So, the government’s argument about the applicability of the salary structure of high courts to information commissioners does not stand,” he added.
RTI activists are planning to legally challenge the move.
Pune-based activist Qaneez Sukhrani slammed the move as another attempt by the government to control the RTI Act. “This first amendment will give the government further chance to amend the law,” she said.