The RTI Act was introduced aiming to provide proper and clear information regarding any matter to the public, maintaining transparency and also in suppressing corruption. This act has held government officials and authority accountable to citizens. Hence achieved the empowerment of citizen and maintained the doctrine of checks and balances. In the case, State of U.P. vs. Raj Narain, the right to information was recognized as one of the basic fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2019, to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 which was later passed on July 22, 2019, in Lok Sabha and on July 25, 2019, in Rajya Sabha. The bill was introduced by the Minister of State Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Dr. Jitendra Singh to rationalize and institutionalize the previous act.
JUSTIFICATION FOR INTRODUCING THE (AMENDMENT) BILL:
On proposing the bill, Dr. Jitendra Singh stated that the previous act was passed in a hurry that it did not have a proper overlooks on various aspects. The 2005 act had certain defects such as, the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) has been given the status of Judge in Supreme Court but his decisions can be challenged in High courts and also the originally proposed salaries of the commissioners equivalent to the secretaries to the government of India but this didn’t make rationalization between them. The kind of work and their power is different to provide same amount of salary.
All these inconsistent provisions were removed and made certain changes in the Amendment Bill. They stated that the bill was brought to enhance the transparency and the overall structure of the RTI act, 2005.
KEY CHANGES PROPOSED IN THE RTI AMENDMENT BILL, 2019:
Certain amendments were made regarding the term of CIC and ICs at both center and state along with the conditions of service.
The bill firstly aimed at amending sections 13 and 16 of the RTI act, 2005. The Information Commissioners were appointed in the center and state level to regulate and implement the provisions of the act. It has specified a fixed term of five years of office for the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCI), state-level Information Commissioner (SIC), and other Information Commissioners.
But the bill has removed this provision and made a change that the term of office for these Commissioners (CIC, ICs) shall be prescribed by the Central Government.
2.AMOUNT OF SALARY:
As mentioned earlier in the article, in the RTI Act, 2005 the salary of Central Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner was proposed equivalent to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner, respectively. Similarly, the salary of state-level Information Commissioner was proposed equivalent to the Government’s Chief Secretary.
The bill had replaced this provision and stated that the salary and allowance of all CIC and ICs in both levels of government will be determined and prescribed only by the Central Government.
3.DEDUCTIONS IN THE SALARY:
The third change is made to the provision were, if, on the appointment of CIC and ICs specified that they would receive and pension and other retirement benefits from previous government service, their salaries would be reduced by an equal amount of their pension. The previous government services include the central and state government, corporations established under central and state law and the company owned and controlled by the central and state government.
The proposed bill removed these provisions from the act.
CONTROVERSIES REGARDING THE RTI AMENDED ACT:
Supreme Court had sent a notice challenging the constitutional validity of RTI amendment act on January 2020 to the central government in PIL and the changes made by RTI rules, 2019 in terms and remuneration of the Information Commissioners.
The petitioners contended that the amended act is violating the object of the original parent act itself and is also violating the fundamental rights guaranteed under article 14, 19(1)(a), and 21 of the Indian Constitution. By stating L. Chandra Kumar vs. The Union of India & Ors as the precedent, the petitioners contended that this act has violated the independence of adjudicatory bodies but resting the executive control regarding the term of office and salary in the hands of the central government.
DEFECTS IN THE (AMENDED) ACT:
· The main defect of this amended act is that huge power was vested in the hands of the central government. This has crippled the power and position of the Information Commissioners and destroyed the neutrality of power.
· The decisions made by the central have affected the independence of CIC, SCIC and IC and it made them look more loyal to the government than the citizen. It can threaten or corrupt the commission.
· There was not any consultation made with the citizen and their opinion regarding the amendment to be passed in the RTI act.
· As the CIC is itself under the control of the governing body the CIC and the ICs have huge vested interest upon the higher bureaucracy thus hampering the status and the independence of the Information Commission.
· This has suppressed the main object of the RTI Act itself, that is transparency. As they are under the control of the decisions made by government, the Information Commission is unable to reveal certain information regarding the central authorities or their internal affairs. During the issues of demonetization, NPAs and all the Information Commission was not completely transparent to the citizen.
· This amendment has lowered their power to issue orders against the government officials and they could not exercise their complete power.
Though the amendment was made to improvise the RTI act it has resulted in undermining the authority of the Information Commissions and has violated certain fundamental rights of the Indian citizens. It has only empowered the central government by wrecking the objects of the act itself. Now the officials under the influence of centre are reluctant to disclose the information against them that lost the credibility of bringing in this amendment. The information is now filtered affecting the unbiased free flow of information, making these Commissions look like one of the other departments that are answerable to the central government. Making all these changes regarding the decision of tenure, salary and structure have altered the impartial character of the Information Commission.