Recently, the Parliament passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
GS-2 Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
GS-4 Right to Information
Amendments brought in the RTI Act
- Removal of fixed-term– As per the act, the CIC and ICs will hold office for a term of five years. The Amendment removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
- Determination of Salary– As per the act, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively.
- The Amendment empowers the Central Government to determine the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs.
The rationale behind the amendments
- The salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the CEC and EC are equal to a Judge of the Supreme Court, therefore, the CIC, IC and the State CIC becomes equivalent to a Judge of the Supreme Court in terms of their salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service.
- But, the functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the Central and State Information Commissions are totally different. Whereas the ECI is a constitutional body, but the CIC and SIC are statutory bodies.
- The decisions of ICs are challenged in high courts, therefore their status being equivalent to Supreme Court judges was causing legal hindrances. o Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalized accordingly.
- The purpose of the amendments proposed is to provide for enabling provision under the RTI Act to frame Rules regarding salaries, allowances and conditions of service for Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners and State Information Commissioners. Presently, there are no such provisions available under the RTI Act 2005
Arguments against the Amendments:
- Incorrect Rational given– Experts have rejected the justifications of government on the rationalization of status. The decisions of all authorities including those of the President and prime minister are challenged before high courts and that their status does not prevent or debar such challenges. o The genesis of the RTI comes from Supreme Court rulings on how the right to information is a pre-condition for informed voting and therefore, parity between information and election commissioners is not an anomaly.
- Dilutes the independence of CICs and ICs– as the Central Government may determine the term and salaries of CICs and ICs.
- Uncertain terms and salary changeable by executive notification reduce CIC to an obedient subordinate.
- This also hampers accountability as it calls people’s right to information under question.
- A situation could arise where different commissioners will have different tenures and salaries. o if salaries and tenures are downgraded, eminent people may not apply for the vacant posts.
- Dilutes the status of CICs– Chief Information Commissioner and Chief Election Commissioner (and the state level officers) were kept at the same footing, as according to the Supreme Court of India RTI and the Right to vote are equally important fundamental rights. However, the amendments tend to change this scenario.
- Encroaches upon the state jurisdiction- as the Central government will prescribe the term, status, and salary of State Information Commissioners.
- Lack of consultation– with the civil society and the state Governments, which amounts to undemocratic imposition. It was not put in the public domain and the amendment did not undergo much scrutiny.
- As per legal experts, rather than downgrading the status, the Information Commission should be given a constitutional status.
- With the increasing number of attacks on RTI users, the government may focus its efforts on better proactive disclosure of information and offer protection to people who show the truth to power by exposing corruption and wrongdoing.