Skip to main content

Modi govt move to "weaken" institution of information commissions, adversely impacting their autonomy

Protest in Jaipur against proposed amendments to the RTI Act
By Anjali Bharadwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak*
The text of the Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Bill is finally available, one day before Parliament’s monsoon session will commence. The secrecy around the amendments has prevented any meaningful debate or public engagement with the proposed changes. It is a matter of grave concern that the government does not value the opinion of millions of people and information seekers whose fundamental right to information will be impacted through this amendment.
The proposed amendments to the RTI Act will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions set up under the RTI Act, to adjudicate on appeals and complaints of people who have been denied their rights under the RTI Act.
The amendments seek to empower the Central government to decide the tenure and salary and allowances of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions.
This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner. The information commissions are the final authorities to adjudicate on claims of access to information, which is a deemed fundamental right under the Constitution. The status conferred on commissioners under the RTI Act is to empower them to carry out their functions autonomously and require even the highest offices to comply with the provisions of the law.
The rationale provided by the government for the amendments is that treating information commissioners on par with functionaries of the election commission is incorrect, as the latter is a constitutional body while information commissions are statutory bodies.
This contention is inherently flawed. The principle of according a high stature, and protecting the terms of service by equating it to functionaries of constitutional bodies, is routinely adopted for independent statutory oversight bodies, including the Central Vigilance Commission (CWC) and the Lokpal.
As the RTI Act stands today, the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief of the Central Information Commission are the same as that of the chief election commissioner. Those of the central information commissioners and state chief information commissioners are on par with election commissioners. The chief and other election commissioners are paid a salary equal to the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court, which is decided by parliament.
The status of information commissioners was extensively discussed during the formulation of the law, including by the Standing Committee. In fact, the Standing Committee opined, “…Information Commission is an important creation under the Act which will execute the laudable scheme of the legislation …It should, therefore, be ensured that it functions with utmost independence and autonomy.”
It recommended that to achieve this objective, it would be desirable to confer on the central chief information commissioner and information commissioners, status of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners respectively. The committee’s recommendation to elevate the status of information commissioners was accepted and passed by parliament.
Therefore, the rationale put forth by the government to amend the RTI Act is completely fallacious.
In fact, there are several issues which require urgent attention of the government to ensure proper functioning of the RTI Act, including making appointments to the large number of vacancies in information commissions, addressing issue of attacks on information seekers by implementing the Whistleblowers Protection Act, addressing poor implementation of proactive disclosures. It is inexplicable that instead of addressing these issues, the government’s sole focus appears to be to weaken the RTI Act.
---
*On behalf of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI)

Comments

TRENDING

Church in India 'seems to have lost' moral compass of unequivocal support to the poor

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
In 2017, Pope Francis dedicated a special day, to be observed by the Universal Church, every year, as the ‘World Day of the Poor’. This year it will be observed on November 17 on the theme ‘The hope of the poor shall not perish for ever’; in a message for the day Pope Francis says:

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

As fear 'grips' right liberals, Arvind Panagariya, too, would be declared anti-national?

By Rajiv Shah
It is surely well-known by now that India's top people in the power-that-be have been castigating all those who disagree with them as "anti-nationals". Nothing unusual. If till yesterday only "secular liberals", and "left-liberals" were declared anti-national, facts, however, appear to have begun surfacing that, now, guns are being trained against those who could be qualified as right liberals, too. Let me be specific.

Indian Muslims' position being 'undermined' by new nationalism gripping the country

By Moin Qazi*
Muslims are the second-largest demographic of India, with nearly 14 per cent of the country’s population, or roughly 172 million people, but they are so marginalised that their presence in important public spheres is almost invisible. Most of them are poor, semi-literate and driven into ghettos.

Australia's centre-right govt 'wakes up' to Islamophobia, swears by multicultural legacy

By Neeraj Nanda*
In an interesting turn, the federal government in Australia, which is led by the centre-right Liberal Party, has slammed incidents of Islamophobia gripping the country, calling them ‘completely unacceptable’. A media statement from David Coleman, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, has referred to a report released by the Charles Sturt University to point towards the danger.

National award winning film 'Hellaro' co-produced by three chartered accountants

By Our Representative
“Hellaro”, a Gujarati feature film produced by Saarthi Productions in association with Harfanmaula Films (Ahmedabad) was declared as the Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards which was conferred by the Government of India. The film also won the Special Jury Award for the Best Actress to all the 13 actresses of the film.
Ashish Patel produced the movie, which has been co-produced three co-producers, Aayush Patel, Prateek Gupta and Mit Jani, all of whom, interestingly, started their filmmaking journey after becoming Chartered Accountants in 2012.
“Hellaro” is directed by Abhishek Shah, who has been working in Gujarati theatre since the past 17 years as writer, director and actor and has received numerous awards for his plays. He has also worked as a casting director for 12 films.
“Hellaro” is a period drama based in Kutch and has been co-written by Abhishek Shah and Prateek Gupta. Gupta previously received the Best Debut Director Award, along with Mit Jan…

Sabarimala: Male devotee nurturing unholy thoughts is 'unfit' to visit Lord Ayyappa shrine

By RB Sreekumar, IPS (Retd)*
The Supreme Court last week, by 3:2 majority, decided to keep the review petitions in Sabarimala matter pending until a larger bench determines questions related to essential religious practices. The majority of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra expressed that the issue whether Court can interfere in essential practises of religion needed examination by larger bench. Justices Chandrachud and Nariman dissented.