RTI Act Amendment: Killing One More Institution?
gfiles|August 2019
The issue of RTI Act Amendment basically is: Should the truth about the arbitrary, autocratic, corrupt and opaque functioning of government and its instrumentalities be brought in the open and made accountable? When the government is killing the Information Commission it is expressing its own fear of the truth and is projecting a false image before the public.
MG Devasahayam

THE government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is turning out to be a bundle of contradictions. It says one thing and does just the opposite. It talks about “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (inclusive growth) but practices the predatory and non-inclusive model of big-ticket development. It preaches “minimum government, maximum governance”, but in practice, it is the opposite of “maximum government, minimum governance”. It mouths the noble principles of ‘transparency’ and ‘empowering’ the people but goes about disempowering the common man in the most secretive manner.

Passing the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 hurriedly in Lok Sabha within three days of its introduction and then ramming it through Rajya Sabha in unconcealed haste proves the last point. Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi rightly terms it as ‘disempowering every Indian citizen.’ She goes on to say: “It is a matter of utmost concern that the Central government is hell-bent on completely subverting the historic Right to Information Act 2005. This law, prepared after widespread consultations and passed unanimously by Parliament, now stands on the brink of extinction.”

These Amendments put the central government in control of the tenure and salaries of the Information Commissioners (ICs), both at the Centre and the States. This will undermine the autonomy of the Act. Tenure allows freedom to the commissioner to deal with the Act without fear of control of any supervisory officer, or a system that can impose punishment; either by way of transfer or terminating the services of the individual. By making the status equivalent to that of a civil servant, and when controls pass to the government, the culture of bureaucratic controls and the ill effects of the pecking order come into play. Autonomy is critical for any organization vested with the responsibility of oversight and monitoring the powerful politicians and public servants in the country.

For an RTI user, an autonomous Information Commission (IC) is important because that is the only independent appeal against bureaucratic secrecy and connivance. It becomes a critical instrumentality, if Public Information Officer of a department denies information, and is upheld by the appellant authority in first appeal within the department. The second appeal lies in these cases, with the IC. As per the Act in its original form, IC, by the virtue of its independence guaranteed by its security of tenure and pay, would have a structure to facilitate the exposing of corruption or malpractices, even at the highest level.

Amendment of the Act is jeopardising this independence. Not only the law but its execution right down to the common man asking for records of pensions and rations will be diluted. The Act now famous all over the world and extolled, will crumble into a bureaucratic structure in collusion with the government. This amendment also seriously affects the constitutional norm of federalism, when the central government control of the tenure and salaries of the State ICs.

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