By- Nishtha Trivedi
“More than 80 RTI users have been murdered because of their determination in using the RTI had been a challenge to unaccountable power”- A bitter truth.
Right to Information was introduced fifteen years ago. It is one in all the foremost successful laws of the independent. Corruption and arbitrary powers were utilized in a widespread manner within the country. Later RTI act,2005 challenged the misuse of powers and attempt of corruption, arbitrators, and privileged governance. RTI act,2005 is taken into account as an improvement within the mechanism for a public vigilance that are fundamental to democratic citizenship. It has provided powers to the ordinary citizens for making the decision and empowering themselves. There is square measure nearly 60 lakh applications being filed per annum, from that we are able to assume that RTI is very important.
In 2019, there was an amendment introduced by Lok Sabha that is Right to Information amendment bill 2019 and was passed with 218 members voting for the favor and 79 members voted for the against for passing of the bill. The bill basically amends section 13(terms and condition of the central Chief Information Commissioner [CIC] and Information Commissioners [ICs]) and section 16(terms and condition of the state-level Chief Information Commissioner [CIC] and Information Commissioners [ICs]) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The amendment primarily proposes the salaries, allowances, tenure and other terms of service of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the state and central level each could be declared as by the Central Government. which means the state government can appoint information commissioners but the tenure, salary, status, etc. will be decide by the central government. Moreover, the salary of the Chief Information Commissioner [CIC] and Information Commissioners [ICs] which were earlier benchmarked with the salary of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the Election Commissioner (EC) respectively, which in turn are benchmarked with the salary of Supreme court judge, amount to Rs.2.50 lakh, along with the monthly allowance of Rs. 34,000 per month with other usual perks like rent free furnished accommodation and 200 liters of fuel every month.
The amendment bill gives the powers to central government to fix the salary, which eventually could become lower, given that the Information Commission is a statutory body unlike the Election Commission which is a constitutional body. Earlier, the tenure rules stipulate that no CIC, IC, SCIC or SIC serve more than one term, for a maximum period of 5 years or till the age of 65, (whichever is earlier). For ICs and SICs, if one of them is nominated to the post of CIC or SCIC, his/her total tenure as both IC and CIC or SIC and SCIC cannot exceed 5 years. While the new bill gives the government the power to fix tenures, it's not clear whether an incumbent seen as pliable or ‘friendly’ to the Centre may get to serve more than one term. Therefore basically, this amendment will centralize the powers of the foremost important part of the RTI Act,2005.
This amendment directly attacks the idea of federalism and accountability. The separation of powers is that key conception that is vital to Indian democratic checks and balances within the country. Earlier, the commissions were unconditional by the law concerning the status, authority and independence however when amendment was done the powers are being centralized and currently it will perform as same as the central government department performs. As the powers are centralized freedom of expression are vulnerable that affects the fundamental federal fabric and declines in democracy.
This amendment will also snatch away the independence of the RTI authorities. The original act provides specific number of tenures and salaries in terms of existing benchmarks, however after the amendment it may happen that the removal of the employees from the office may also be dependent upon the center, whereas in the original bill, the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner were removed only by president at the central level and governor at the state level after an enquiry by the apex court finds a valid reason for heir dismissal from the office.
The institutional architecture ensures that the RTI authorities performs in as effective and independent manner, that could be a sensible sign, however the amendment provides powers to the central government which might become a unilateral decision of fixing the tenure, salary, allowance, status and many other terms and condition of the service. Hence, the government will be deciding on a case to case basis.
Therefore, it is terribly probably that independence of RTI authorities square measure moved out. Also, the amendment process was inappropriate and was not drained in an authentic manner. The amendments were taken place through with none of the involvement of citizen. The citizen consultation was not taken and bypassing examination by the standing committee. There is mandatory pre- legislative consultative policy of the government which was been neglected by the government. The amendment needs to be go - through yet again as a result of preserving the fundamental nature and purpose of the RTI Act is crucial to ensure democratic citizenship in India.
On concluding, when after knowing the very fact that how RTI has modified the perspective and how necessary it is for the ordinary citizens the amendment appears to be diluting the purpose and aim of the Right to Information Act, 2005. These amendments would lead to the dismantlement of the transparency architecture as they provide powers to the central government to unilaterally decide status, salary and other terms and condition of the services of the central Chief Information Commissioner [CIC] and Information Commissioners [ICs]) and state-level Chief Information Commissioner [CIC] and Information Commissioners [ICs].
Now the system is being centralized the and central department will be functioning solely. These amendments actually weaken the important part of the RTI Act. The amendment of RTI act primarily violates the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions and there by considerably dilute the wide used frame work for transparency in India.
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