A day after the Lok Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amid strong protests from the Opposition, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi Tuesday said the law now stands on the brink of extinction adding that the present government sees the RTI Act as a nuisance and wants to destroy the status and independence of the Central Information Commission.
“It is a matter of utmost concern that the Central Government is hell-bent on completely subverting the historic Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. This law, prepared after wide-spread consultation and passed unanimously by Parliament, now stands on the brink of extinction,” Sonia said in a statement.
Expanding on how the use of RTI has benefited women and the weaker sections of the society, the UPA chairperson said, “Over the past decade and more, 60 lakh of our countrymen and women have used RTI and helped usher in a new culture of transparency and accountability administration at all levels. The foundations of our democracy have, as a result, been strengthened immeasurably. The weaker sections of society have benefitted greatly by the proactive use of RTI by activists and others.”
Gandhi also said that by using the majority to achieve its aims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP will disempower citizens of the nation. “It is clear that the present Central 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 Central Government may use its legislative majority to achieve its aims but in the process, it would be disempowering each and every citizen of our country,” the statement read.
On Monday, terming the BJP-led NDA government’s move to amend the RTI Act to give the Centre the power to fix salaries, tenure, terms and conditions of the role of Information Commissioners (ICs), as “an insult to Parliament, Constitution and judiciary”, the Opposition called for a vote on the The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bill was passed with 218 votes in its favour and 79 against.
The Bill amends Sections 13 and 16 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Section 13 of the original Act sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). The amendment proposes that the appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. Again, Section 13 states that salaries, allowances and other terms of service of “the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner”, and those of an Information Commissioner “shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner”. The amendment proposes that the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.
The RTI law was passed by Parliament on June 15, 2005 and came fully into force on October 12, 2005. Over 17,500,000 applications were filed in the first ten years of the commencement of the act. According to estimates, nearly 60 lakh applications are being filed every year. The RTI Act is regarded as one of the most successful laws of independent India. It has given ordinary citizens the confidence and the right to ask questions of government authorities. It is used by citizens as well as the media. The law is seen as having acted as a deterrent for government servants against taking arbitrary decisions.