RTI Amendment Bill Passed; Dilutes Transparency Law, Says Opposition

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The opposition has dubbed the bill "RTI Elimination Bill" and wants to send it for further scrutiny.

New Delhi:

The controversial bill to amend the landmark transparency law, the Right to Information Act, was passed by the Lok Sabha today amid opposition allegations that it was being diluted. The opposition — which has dubbed the bill "RTI Elimination Bill" and wants to send it to a select committee for further scrutiny — is hoping to get support in the Rajya Sabha, where the government still lacks the numbers.

The proposed changes involve the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners at the states and centre: Information commissioners — who currently have five-year tenures – will have "terms as may be prescribed by the central government". Their salaries, instead of being on par with that of Election Commission officials, will be decided by the Central government.

There are no such provisions available under the RTI Act at present. Activists say this is a coercive measure that will interfere with their freedom to make independent decisions.

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The government, however, argues that there is no question of degrading the information commissioners and it is only trying to remove some anomalies in the act. "We are not interfering and will not do anything to affect the autonomy of the institution," said Jitendra Singh, the minister for personnel department.

Through the day, activists took to the streets in Delhi, arguing that the amendments are an attempt to dilute the provisions for disclosure of information.

These bodies play a very important role and these amendments are extremely regressive, because they are trying to control these institutions, trying to make them caged parrots by saying the tenure and salaries of the commissioners will be decided by the central government," said activist Anjali Bhardwaj.

"By degrading them, making them subservient to the central government, making their terms and conditions, salaries subservient… not just Centre, but also the state, they are actually weakening a very important leg of the RTI," said Nikhil Dey.

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