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RTI amendments regressive, why is Centre not making rules? asks Justice Lokur

By Our Representative
Justice Madan Lokur, retired Supreme Court judge, has told a public meeting in Delhi that the recent amendments made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act are regressive and will have an impact on the functioning of the law. Speaking on the occasion of the 14 years of the existing nce of the Act, Lokur regretted, despite their passage more than two months ago, the Central government has not made rules regarding the salary and tenure of information commissioners.
In July 2019, the RTI Act was amended in Parliament, empowering the Centre to make rules regarding tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and all state information commissions (SICs).
Lokur said that the RTI law will continue to suffer till the rules are made, adding, the Act has empowered people to seek information of importance to them and hold the government accountable, and that information commissions are crucial to the functioning of the law.
The meeting was organised on October 16 by the civil rights organization Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), which recently released a report on the functioning of information commissions across the country were also discussed.
“Report Card of Information Commissions in India 2018-19” analyses the performance of all 29 information commissions set up under the RTI Act in terms of the number of commissioners functioning in the commission, the number of appeals/complaints pending, the time taken by the commission to dispose cases and frequency of penalties imposed by the commission.
Speaking on the occasion, Sudhir Bhargava, Chief Information Commissioner of CIC, admitted that the commission that there was a huge backlog of appeals and complaints and the time taken to dispose cases, claiming, the commission was "committed" to ensure that people are able to access information under the RTI Act.
Giving details of the report, Anjali Bhardwaj of SNS said, it shows how governments across the country are trying to undermine the RTI Act. In several commissions, despite large number of pending appeals and complaints, governments have failed to take steps to appoint information commissioners, thereby frustrating people's right to know.
Despite large number of pending appeals and complaints, governments have failed to take steps to appoint information commissioners
CIC in December 2018 was functioning with just three information commissioners even as eight posts, including that of the chief, were vacant. Currently four vacancies persist CIC, while the pendency has been rising every month and is currently more than 33,000, she told the meeting.
As for states, Bharadwaj added, the information commission of Tripura has been completely defunct since May 2019 as not a single commissioner had been appointed, while the Andhra Pradesh SIC was not functional for 17 months (from May 2017 to October 2018). And thr SICs of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan are functioning without a Chief.
Sarvadhan Singh, a resident of Begumpur spoke about how the RTI Act helped him seek information from the government and secure his old age pension. After applying for the pension, there was no response from the government. He made several visits to the department to no avail. Finally it was only after he filed an RTI application that the department started his pension and he received Rs 20,000 as dues.
Sabbiran, who lost her husband 14 years ago in an accident, applied for the Widow Pension Scheme of the Delhi government. After waiting for over 10 months without a response, she said, she filed an RTI application to the department seeking information regarding action taken on her application. She did not receive any reply, hence filed an appeal to the CIC on June 8, 2018. She is still waiting for her case to be heard.
Others who spoke on the occasion included senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, bureaucrat-turned-activist Harsh Mander, human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi and and women's rights leader Annie Raja. Ashish Ranjan, a Bihar activist, spoke about the murders of Rajender Singh and Dharmendra Yadav, who were killed for exposing corruption using the RTI Act.

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