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Explained: Why Sonia Gandhi has accused the govt of destroying RTI Act

Sonia Gandhi has described the recent amendments to the RTI Act as the "final assault" to destroy the historic legislation passed by the UPA government in 2005.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 1, 2019 7:38:09 am
sonia gandhi on rti bill, RTI india rti bill, rti amendment bill, changes in rti bill, right to information act, rti act explained, parliament monsoon session, explained news, news explained, today explained, explained today indian express news The new RTI Rules were notified on October 24.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday described the recent amendments to the RTI Act as the “final assault” to destroy the historic legislation passed by the UPA government in 2005.

In July, soon after Lok Sabha passed the amendments, Sonia had said that the Narendra Modi government “sees the RTI Act as a nuisance and wants to destroy the status and independence of the Central Information Commission which was put on par with the Central Election Commission and Central Vigilance Commission”. The new RTI Rules were notified on October 24.

What is the criticism of the changes in the RTI Act?

The Bill passed by the Parliament amended sections 13 and 16 of the RTI Act to allow the government to fix the terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) of the Centre and the states. The Amendment Act said that the appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”, and that salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the CIC/IC “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.

This meant that the CIC and ICs no longer enjoyed statutorily fixed five-year tenures, and pay and perks similar to those of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs), as had been allowed under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

So what terms and service conditions has the government decided for the CIC/ICs?

Under the Rules notified last week, the terms of service of the CIC, including her/his pay and perks, will be the same as that of the Cabinet Secretary, which is significantly lower than that of the CEC. And those of the ICs are similar to that of a Secretary to the Government of India.

Also, the CIC and the ICs now have a fixed tenure of just three years.

Earlier, the CICs and ICs availed, apart from their salaries, Rs 34,000 worth of sumptuary allowances, fully furnished rent-free accommodation on government cost, three LTCs per year, and unlimited medical allowances for self, spouse and dependent children. Post-retirement, they are entitled to an additional pension, a telephone with 1,500 free calls per month at their residence, and orderly allowances.

After being downgraded to Cabinet Secretary rank, the sumptuary allowance of the CIC has fallen to Rs 10,000 per month. The CIC is also not eligible for many other allowances that are available to the CEC and ECs.

Is there a downgrading of the official status of the CIC as well?

Yes, the changes in the service conditions and pay would mean a downgradation in the ‘Table of Precedence’ by several notches. The ‘Table of Precedence’ is a protocol list prepared by the Ministry of Home Affairs and is based on the hierarchy and rank of government functionaries.

The CIC was earlier on a par with the CEC, who occupies position 9A in the table (along with the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and Chairman, UPSC). The Secretaries to the Government of India, with whom the CIC is now on a par, is significantly lower in the table, at No. 23.

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