RTI: A bill that may kill a right -Yashovardhan Azad and M Sridhar Acharyulu
The retrograde amendment would amount to creating an RTI ministry under the government
Fifteen years is a good time for appraisal of an institution. The Right to Information (RTI) Act, called the sunshine legislation and promulgated in 2005, certainly deserves an in-depth study and assessment for accelerating the flow of information to the public. This calls for upgrading skills, infrastructure, processes and alacrity of response from public authorities. A decadal review of the RTI regime undertaken in 2014 by the various stakeholders, resulted in very useful findings.
Presently, over 25,000 cases are filed with the Commission annually — a quantum jump from roughly 15,000, 10 years back. With digitisation, the entire process of filing applications, serving of notices, and uploading of decisions has become easier, and the system has ramped up capacities and efficiency. Increasing applications indicate the faith of the people as well as better response by public authorities.
It is in this context that the government’s plan to amend the RTI Act, to alter the salary and tenure of Information Commissioners, is intriguing. The Lok Sabha, on Monday, passed “The RTI Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018”. This was moved in the last session too, but withdrawn in the face of fierce opposition.
The penultimate bill on RTI in 2005 also had a provision of appointing deputy commissioners, who would function as per ‘the direction of the Central Government’. The Parliamentary Standing Committee recommended its deletion because it would make every Information Commissioner a clerk in the administration. Finally, when the bill was passed, this subclause was replaced with: “...may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission (CIC) autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act.” The Committee felt “it will be desirable to confer on the Information Commissioner and Deputy Information Commissioners, status of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioner, respectively...”
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