Devidas Gupta 

“Autonomy of information commissioners will be destroyed”

Govt says that Information Commission cannot be considered at par with Election Commission

Protests are being held all across the country against the proposed legislation which will amend the RTI Act as it has been done without any consultation. In the national Capital, family members of Rajender Singh and Valmiki Yadav of Bihar, RTI activists who were recently murdered for exposing corruption  joined in a protest. The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), in collaboration with various campaigns and groups including the National Alliance of Peoples Movements (NAPM), the National Right to Food Campaign, Anti Corruption Team, and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)  organised a rally and Jan Manch in Delhi.

Civil society is up in arms against the plans of the government to amend the RTI Act. The government is trying to dilute the provisions of the Act. The proposed amendments allow the government to decide the tenure and salaries of Central and State Information Commissioners, which are currently statutorily protected. The central information commissioners and state information commissioners will ‘become subservient’ to the government if the amendment is made.

Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI)

“The decision to give the Information Commissioners a high stature and protected tenures is meant to ensure their independence and was approved by Parliament when the law was passed,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). She said that the move is simply a way of giving the Central government a greater grip on Information Commissioners, who have been giving orders that the government finds inconvenient.

The amendments “will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions…and fundamentally weaken the institution”, NCPRI said in a statement.

At present, the pay and perks as well as other terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) is at par with that of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC); and the grade of an Information Commissioner (IC) is same as that of an Election Commissioner (EC). Actually, the status of the CEC and the EC is equal to that of a judge of the Supreme Court, so by extension, the CIC and the IC enjoy the same equivalence. The chief information commissioner enjoys quasi-judicial power.

The new bill wants it all amended. “The mandates of the Election Commission of Indian and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly,” it reasons.

The proposed amendment says that the words “for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office” in the RTI Act shall be substituted with “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central government”.

On salary and status, the amended bill says, “the salaries and allowances payable to and other terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government.