The Right to Information Act, 2005 known as RTI, Act. This act given empowers the citizens to the right to information. Right available to the general public to demand information from the duty-bound Government. In India, the first time political commitment to the citizen’s right to information came up on Lok Sabha Elections in 1977and Morarji Desai led government of 1977 in its election manifesto promised “An open government” and but he had no success. In 1986, the SC in the famous case of Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation gave some importance directive that freedom of speech and Expression provided under Article 19(1) of the constitution clearly implies right to information as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by citizens. Later V.P. Singh government trying makes some strong positive changes in systems but their government also not a success because of his government's fall.
In 1994, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) started a grassroots campaign for RTI demanding information concerning development works in rural Rajasthan and resulted of this movement, in 2000, Rajasthan government enacting RTI. In NDA led government introduced the Freedom of information Bill, 2000 in parliament and two years later the bill passed by the parliament on 4 December 2002 and it received the assent of the Present of India on 6th January 2003. In 2004, the UPA government appointed a National Advisory Council to monitor the implementation of govt. schemes and advise the government on policy and law. The NAC recommended changes to the existing Freedom of information Bill, 2000.
The new RTI bill, 2004 was tabled in parliament as applicable only to the union government but not state governments then the civil society protested against the bill because most of the common information was from the state governments. After heavy lobbying by NCPRI and other organizations and finally the RTI Act, 2005 was passed.
The objective of the RTI ACT
The RTI Act, 2005 was introduced with the sole objective of empowering people, containing corruption and bringing promote transparency and neutrality of the accountability to the public authority penal.
RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019
Recently, the Central Government created a record of passing the maximum number of bills in the first session of the parliament and passed many bills but the proposed amendment to the RTI Act, 2005 caused controversy around the institution of the Central Information Commission being weakened. While there is a reason for the concern, it arises not purely because of the text of the law, but the absence of accurate justification for the amendments.
Every single citizen of India has the right to file an RTI from any public office, or any government-funded office about their structure and functioning. The Act ensures transparency even when the public officer doesn't want it. It empowers the citizens to examine and question the government’s decisions and assess if they are in the interest of the public. If any department refuses to provide information that we ask, then we can appeal to the IC and CIC who can impose a fine on the officer who refused to provide information. To ensure work without any political pressure, there IC officers and the CIC officers were kept free of any interference from the government in the RTI Act 2005. Their terms and salaries were fixed and no one in power could have fired them or decided their salary. This certainly gave them the freedom to work honestly without any fear, and that is where the soul of the RTI lay.
The 2019 Bill is killing this very soul by removing the fixed tenure and salary of these officers and clearly indicating intervention in their work since it made that the salary and tenure of IC and CIC will be decided by the Centre. It grants larger powers to the Government as everything will be decided by the Centre. Thus, the neutrality of ICs would be crippled to make them "more loyal" to the central government. They will act as the employees of the Centre, and if they wish, they can decide to withhold information that can shore up the government. The amendment has the potential to harmfully affect the independence of the CICs and ICs since the central government will now have the authority to decide the terms, tenure, and salaries of these officials. Hence, it is a threat to independence. The Bill was introduced and passed without public consultation which obstructs the citizens' RTI, as a public consultation is crucial for laws to become successful and drafting of the legislation cannot be left to the elected representatives alone.
This amendment subtracts transparency as it gives power to the Centre to unilaterally make decisions, which will fundamentally weaken the whole basic idea and structure of the RTI. But the Centre claims that the equivalence drawn between the Amendment Bill and the Election Commission of India and the Central and State Information Commissioners are flawed. In this account, the central government says the difference between ECI and the CIC, ECI is responsible for the direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislative of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President held under the constitution and It is a constitutional body established under the Article 324 (1) conversely, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions are statutory bodies established under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. Hence, the mandate of ECI and Central & State Information Commissions are different. Rather, they have justified the amendment by stating that it is an attempt to streamline and reinforce the Act, and also bringing greater transparency. The office of the ICs is the highest appellate authority in the RTI framework.
Now the IC or CIC will be like caged parrots who will sing according to the government, or at least will not sing against the will of the government. We all must remember that democracy alone means nothing without rights and laws that empower ordinary people against powerful governments.
The purpose of the Right to Information Act 2005 was to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority. But the citizens' right to secure the access to information is being crippled by the Amendment Bill and autonomy of the Act is diluted by Government. The amendment has taken away the free flow of unbiased information and has weakened the law without providing any reliable justification. The 2019 Bill is killing this very soul by removing the fixed tenure and salary of these officers and clearly indicating intervention in their work since it proposes that the salary and tenure of IC and CIC will be decided by the Centre. It grants larger powers to the Government as everything will be decided by the Centre.
1. India Today, 2019, “Lok Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill amid protests from opposition” New Delhi, 22 July 2019. Received from https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/lok-sabha-passes-rti-amendment-bill-amid-protests-by-opposition-1572314-2019-07-22.
2. Prasanna Kumar, Alok (2019): “The true dangers of the RTI (Amendment Bill), “Economic and Political Weekly”, Vol: 30, 27 July 2019. Received from https://www.epw.in/journal/2019/30/law-and-society/true-dangers-rti-amendment-bill.html?0=ip_login_no_cache%3Dc922979b947cf766c7784421286d2782
3. RTI Assessment and Advocacy Group and Samta Centre for Equity Studies: “People’s Monitoring of the RTI regime in India 2011-13”, October 2014. Retrieved from http://esocialsciences.org/Articles/show_Article.aspx?qs=bGp0Ut9EHmCw/EpGtd/DaElviNPVAwU0PwtqA3g81vY=.
4. Satark Nagrik Sangathan and Centre for Equity Studies, “Preliminary findings of assessment of orders of the Central Information Commission (CIC)”, October 2018. Retrieved from http://snsindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CIC2018.pdf
5. Sinha Roshni (2019): “Explainer: The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019” PRS India, 19 July 2019. Retrieved from https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=192264
6. The Economic Times, 2019, “Parliament approves RTI amendment; RS negates for select committee” Delhi, 25 July 2019. Retrieved from https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/explainer-right-information-amendment-bill-2019
Gujrat National Law University, Gandhinagar
(Images used for representative purpose only)