RTI Amendment Bill will compromise autonomy of transparency panel: Ex-information commissioners

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 proposes to give the Centre the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of information commissioners at the central and state levels.

Published: 24th July 2019 09:46 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th July 2019 09:46 PM   |  A+A-

Right to Information, RTI

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By PTI

NEW DELHI: The amendments to the Right to Information Act proposed by the government will compromise the autonomy of the transparency panel by making it subordinate to the executive, former central information commissioners said on Wednesday.

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 proposes to give the Centre the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of information commissioners at the central and state levels.

The government's move has triggered protests from the Opposition and RTI activists, who allege that the Bill seeks to undermine the authority of the information commissions.

"Chief information commissioners could survive only because the law prescribes their tenure. One cannot disturb him/her until he/she completes the complete five-year term or 65 years of age. We would have been finished long ago had there been no such rule in the Act," former information commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu said.

"The government is not telling Parliament what will be the status of information commissioners. Will that be equal to the secretary or upper-division clerk?" he said.

The commission should be independent of the government because it deals with issues wherein it directs the administration to provide information.

After the amendment to the RTI Act, the information commissioners will be totally dependent on the government for tenure and salaries, Acharyulu said.

Wajahat Habibullah, the first chief information commissioner, claimed that through the amendment the government seeks to usurp Parliament's power to determine the salaries of the information commissioners and their tenure fixed by the RTI Act at the central and state levels.

"The government kept the amendment bill a top-secret and introduced it in Parliament without any public consultation. Is this how they are going to provide information to common people under the RTI Act?" he said.

An independent commission -- in terms of pay and tenure -- can direct the government to provide information, otherwise withheld by the administration if it thinks the public should have access to it, former information commissioner Yashovardhan Azad said.

"How will information commissioners be able to hear a common man's plea against government officials if they are made subordinate to the executive?" he asked.

It also subverts the principle of federalism, with the Centre deciding pay and tenure of state information commissioners, they said.

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