Proposed Amendments To RTI Act Undemocratic: Activists

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Proposed Amendments To RTI Act Undemocratic: Activists

Saumya Mishra | July 27, 2019 16:17 hrs

GUWAHATI: The central government recently sought to bring about certain amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005. This has raised concerns among the RTI activists of Guwahati who feel that the proposed amendments to the Act are undemocratic and would go against the interest of those seeking information under the Act.

The proposed amendments to the Act state that the tenure of the chief information commissioners (CIC) and information commissioners (IC), which was earlier fixed for five years, will no longer remain fixed.   

The amendment states that the appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the central government.”

Additionally, the central government also seeks to prescribe the salaries of the CICs and the ICs.

These provisions have been opposed by RTI activists as they feel that bureaucrats will now have the power to decide the tenure as well as salaries of the chief information commissioners and information commissioners on a case-to-case basis. 
The RTI Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed by the Lok Sabha on July 22 while the Rajya Sabha too passed the bill on July 25. It now awaits the approval of the President Ram Nath Kovind. 
 
The currently existing RTI Act of 2005 was formed to provide citizens the right to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. 

RTI activists have condemned the government’s step to bring about amendments to the RTI Act. 

Dulal Bora, an RTI activist from Guwahati told G Plus, “This is an autonomous body which should not be attached to the government and they should not have any control over the officials. The central government has taken a regressive step to clamp down on the rights of the citizens.”  

Bora added that he is also planning to file a PIL (public interest litigation) with the Supreme Court in the next few days in this regard.  

“When the government had constituted the body of the RTI Act, they had then announced what kind of salary the officials will get and the type of power they will have,” Bora said further mentioning that if the amendments are implemented, it would be difficult for the people to get justice if there is binding from the government.

“CICs and ICs are part of an autonomous system which should remain that way. They should not have to bow down before the bureaucrats,” he said.  
 
On the other hand, peasant leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi said that the RTI Act of 2005 had initially come into effect due to the people's movement itself and it should not be allowed to come under anybody’s control.  

“The RTI Act is an integral part of the Indian democratic system. But now the BJP-led government is ending all the democratic institutions and their latest target is the RTI Act. The central government wants to clamp down on the information being given out to the public,” said Gogoi.  
 
He added that one of their demands includes that the RTI should be retained in its present form.  

“After the BJP government came to power, the officials have become reluctant to give out information under the RTI Act. 

Therefore, we also want that the implementation of RTI Act should be done in a transparent manner,” Gogoi told G Plus.
    
He also made a case for the government to fill the vacant positions in the central as well as state information commissions. Further, talking about Assam he said that in the state information commission, currently the chief information commissioner is the lone serving authority.

“In Assam, one will have to wait for a very long time to file an appeal in the information commission. The execution of the RTI Act has become inefficient after the BJP government came to power,” stated Gogoi. 
               
On the other hand, the government has said that it does not have any intention of curtailing the independence of the Act.

Speaking in the Rajya Sabha when the RTI Amendment Bill was being passed, the minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pension, Jitendra Singh said, “There is no interference as far as the independence of the Act is concerned.” 

He added that the government will not have unbridled power to amend the rules and that the government is open to suggestions and the amendment is being made with a “clear intention.” 

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