Narendra Modi-led government introduces Bill in Lok Sabha to amend RTI Act

The Narendra Modi-led government on Friday introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha to amend the RTI Act. This move was opposed by the Congress earlier and the party has been against it since the BJP was mulling to amend the RTI Act.

While the Congress walked out of the Assembly, a division of votes was undertaken for the introduction of the legislation, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019. The Union Home Minister Amit Shah was present in the House when the bill was introduced. The Narendra Modi-led government won the ballot with 224 votes with 9 members opposing it.

The bill proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of the state and central Information Commissioners. Congress and the critics have been consistently opposing the bill saying that the amendment could dilute the effectiveness of the RTI Act and also threatens the autonomy of the Information Commissions. The version of the Bill was originally introduced in the Lok Sabha's monsoon session last year.

The bill proposes to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 so as to provide that the term of office of, and the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of, the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners and the State Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners, "shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government."

The proposed bill dated July 15 has been circulated among the members of Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh. It states that term of offices, salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions shall be "as prescribed by the Central Government". In the present form Section 13 (5) of the Right to Information Act provides that the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of the service of the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner while that of an Information Commissioner shall be same as that of an Election Commissioner.

The amendment circulated by the Government states that the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners have salaries of a Supreme Court Judge which brings Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at par with the apex court judges. "The functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the Central and State Information Commissions are totally different. The Election Commission of India is a Constitutional body...On the other hand Central Information Commission and State Information Commission are statutory bodies established under the Right to Information Act, 2005," it said.

When it was circulated last year, the move had faced criticism from civil society members, activists and former Information Commissioners who had said that the move will take away the independence of the Commissions, highest adjudicating bodies in the matter of the RTI Act. Finally, it was not introduced in the Parliament.

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