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

It's now official: Developed Gujarat's regular, casual workers earn less than 19 top states

By Rajiv Shah
Though not as low as state chief minister Vijay Rupani claims it to be (0.9%), Gujarat’s unemployment rate, at least as reflected in a recent report released by the Government of India, is 4.8%, lower than the national average, 6%. Yet, ironically, the same report, released soon after the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in May 2019, brings to light an even grimmer reality: Lower wages in "model" and "developed" Gujarat compared to virtually the whole of India, including the so-called Bimaru states.

Amaravati: World Bank refusing to share public grievances on Land Pooling Scheme

By Our Representative
A new report, prepared by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), New Delhi, has taken strong exception to the World Bank refusing to share its independent assessment of the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS), floated by the Andhra Pradesh government in order to build the new capital.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

Why crib? 4.5% is far better than pre-1980 'Hindu rate of growth': Subramanian replies

By Rajiv Shah
Even as sticking to his original argument that India's gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 has been overestimated by 2.5%, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian has said in a fresh paper that his estimate of post-2011-12 growth rate at around 4.5% is surely not "implausibly low", as some of his critics have been arguing following his controversial June paper.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

Govt of India 'lying': MGNREGA budget reduced by Rs 1,084 crore in 2019-20

Counterview Desk
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a well-known advocacy group for the rural jobs guarantee scheme, under implementation since 2005, has said that the statement by the Rural Development Minister has a made a mockery of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the floor of Parliament, revealing the ruling BJP’s “anti-worker and anti-poor bias”.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.

UP's Sonbhadra killing of 10 tribals highlights 'failure' to implement Forest Rights Act

Counterview Desk On July 17, as many as 10 people, including three women, were killed and 28 injured when a village head and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Ubha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. While the firing took place following a clash between over a land ownership dispute, it reportedly highlights failure of officials enforce Forest Rights Acts (FRA) and Survey Settlement in favour of tribals.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.