Lok Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill amid Opposition uproar; what changes have been proposed under new law

  • On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  • The bill seeks to give the Central government the power to set the tenure and salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at both the central and state levels

  • However, the bill was criticised by the Opposition, who alleged that it will take away the independence of the RTI authorities

  • Union minister Jitendra Singh assured that the government 'will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution' and that it is trying to do away with anomalies in the Act

  • Under the provisions of the RTI ACT, 2005, any citizen may request information from a 'public authority' (a body of Government or 'instrumentality of State') which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days

On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019. While 218 members were in favour of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 79 voted against it. The bill which was introduced on Friday, seeks to give the Central government the power to set the tenure and salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at both the central and state levels.

 Lok Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill amid Opposition uproar; what changes have been proposed under new law

File image of the Indian Parliament. AP

However, the bill was criticised by the Opposition, who alleged that it will take away the independence of the RTI authorities. The Hindu quoted Congress MP Shashi Tharoor as saying that “this Bill is removing the two greatest armours of institutional independence and on top of that, by controlling the State Information Commissioners, by taking over the power to determine their salaries, the Central government is destroying it”.

NK Premachandran, MP from Kollam, Kerala also took a similar position on the bill, saying that the bill compromises the power of Parliament as well as the judiciary.

While defending the bill, Jitendra Singh, Union minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, told the House that “there is a provision that suo-motu you should provide maximum information in public domain so that the number and the need for RTIs reduces. In five years, we have made changes so that things are uploaded faster on websites”.

Singh assured that the government “will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution” and that it is trying to do away with anomalies in the Act.

What is the Right to Information Act, 2005?

The Right to Information Act (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India “to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens” and replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.

The RTI act, 2005 is a brainchild of Aruna Roy. The Act applies to all States and Union Territories of India except Jammu & Kashmir. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen may request information from a "public authority" (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.

The act came into force to fulfill objectives of empowering people, containing corruption, and ensuring transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. In the first ten years of the commencement of the act over 17,500,000 applications had been filed.

Any person who desires to obtain information shall submit a written or electronic request in English or Hindi or the official language of the area to the Central Public Information Officer or his/her counterpart at the state level.

In case an appeal is rejected, the Central Public Information Officer or his/her equivalent will communicate the reason for rejection, the period within which an appeal against the rejection can be made and particulars of the appellant authority.

However, the authority is under no obligation to provide any information that might hurt the sovereignty and integrity of India, information that has been forbidden to share by any court of law and information received under confidence by a foreign government and cabinet papers.

Changes proposed under RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Bill amends Sections 13 and 16 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. While the RTI Act, 2005, laid down a tenure of five years (or the age of 65, whichever is earlier) for the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners, the RTI (Amendment) Bill states that the Centre will notify the tenure of all Information Commissioners (ICs) at the state and central level.

Under Section 13, the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the “the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner”, and those of an Information Commissioner “shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner”. The current amendment states that the salaries and allowances of these officers will be determined by the Central government.

As per the 2005 Act, if CICs and ICs (at central and state levels) are receiving a pension or other retirement benefits, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension. In this case, previous government service includes service under the central government, state government, corporation established under a central or state law, and company-owned or controlled by the central or state government. The 2019 RTI (Amendment) Bill removes all these provisions.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 15:23:16 IST