The Right To Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019: Dilution Or Strengthening?
On 22nd July, 2019, Lok Sabha passed The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which aims to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Bill proposes to give the Central government power to set the tenure and salaries of State and Central Information Commissioners.
- Term of Information Commissioners: It seeks to modify section 13 (related to Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs)) and section 16 of the Act (related to State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) and State Information Commissioners (SICs)), which states that the CIC and other ICs (appointed at the central and state level) will hold office for a term of five years. The Bill removes this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
- Determination of Salary: The Act states that the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively. The Bill seeks to amend these provisions related to salaries and allowances and proposes to be determined by the central government.
- Deductions in Salary: The Act states that at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension. Previous government service includes service under: (i) the central government, (ii) state government, (iii) corporation established under a central or state law, and (iv) government company owned or controlled by the central or state government. The bill seeks to remove it.
|RTI Act, 2005||RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019|
|Term for CIC and ICs was 5 years.||Government will notify term.|
|The salary of the CIC and ICs will be equivalent to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners respectively.||These will be determined by the government|
Arguments Supporting the Amendment
- The mandate of Election Commission of India (ECI) and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalized accordingly.
- Election Commission is a Constitutional body while offices of Information Commissioners are statutory one and hence cannot have same status.
- The Central Information Commissioner has been given the status of a Supreme Court judge but his judgments can be challenged in the High Courts. So, there is a need for streamlining it.
Criticism of the Amendment
- It may compromise independence of the office of Information Commissioners.
- It will render the empowering statue i.e. RTI act 2005, and institution of Information Commissioners into a paper tiger.
- Election petitions and decrees of ECI, whose members also have the status of a Supreme Court judge, can also be challenged in High courts and it does not diminish their status.
In order to ameliorate the criticisms of the amendment, it is of paramount importance to subject it to a parliamentary standing committee and have constructive debate and discussion on the amendment.