If the amendments to the Right to Information Act come through in the Monsoon session of Parliament, it will be a severe setback to the civil rights movement. The amendments will severely hamper the independence of RTI officials and render the functioning of the Central Information Commission handicapped.
The amendments seek to impose government control over the salary and tenure of the CIC.
"The CIC has a big role to play in the implementation of RTI. If the government gets control over the salary and tenure of the CIC, it will definitely be an attack on his independent functioning. After the amendments, the tenure of the CIC will be very short. This will make it very easy for the government to transfer or remove any official who becomes inconvenient," warns Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI National Convener, while speaking to Gaon Connection.
"Amendments will finish RTI" –Wajahat Habibullah, former CIC
"The government should not bring in these amendments without taking the views of all interested parties which include civil society and the information commissioners. This amendment will not just water down the RTI Act, it will finish it. The office of the CIC will become just another government department," Mr Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, told Gaon Connection.
At present, the tenure of the CIC is 5 years or until he/she attains the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier and his salary is equivalent to that of a Supreme Court judge. "The so-far independent CIC will obviously be under pressure to work according to the dictates of the government because he will not have any job security. Not only is this a direct attack on the independence of the CIC, but also a clear attempt to dilute the RTI Act," adds Bhardwaj.
Provisions of RTI Act
The Right to Information Act came into force in 2005. Under this Act, any person asks for any information from government and government-supported organisations. The Act mandated a time-bound response from the officials and also included provisions for punishments in case of failure to comply.
At present, the CIC of India enjoys the same salary and comes under the same service rules as the Chief Election Commissioner. Similarly, the State Information Commissioners are on par with the State Chief Election Commissioners.
RTI activists from 10 states affected have converged to New Delhi to protest against the proposed amendments. "Apart from the protest rally, we are also trying to build consensus among different opposition parties in order to resist the amendment in Parliament. Among the political parties, we are speaking to are the Congress, TMC, CPI, CPI (M) and RJD," informs Bhardwaj.
"Before bringing in such amendments, the government should have made attempts to know the opinions and views of the people. Instead, the government has directly brought in these changes," Pradeep, an RTI activist who has come to Delhi to take part in the protests all the way from Hyderabad, told Gaon Connection.
"We are also demanding that the Whistle Blower Protection Bill that the Modi government had tabled in 2014 should be implemented. Why has the government not been able to implement it despite being in power for the past four years," she asks.
Role of UPA
Even the previous UPA government had attempted to dilute the RTI Act by restricting the release of file notings. But due to the pressure from RTI activists and civil society, they were unable to do so.
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