Govt Planning To Render RTI Act Toothless Through Amendments: Activists

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Through this amendment bill, the government is trying to weaken the independence and authority of the Information commissions. Now government is interfering in the constitutional rights of central and state information commissions. They want to turn it in another government department, said eminent civil rights activist Nikhil Dey.

Ghazanfar Abbas | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — A leading advocacy group working for right to information has strongly opposed the proposed amendments in the Right To Information Act 2005, saying these changes will adversely impact the fundamental right to information of Indian citizens.

Expressing its “grave concern” over the Right to Information Amendment Bill 2018, proposed by the central government, NCPRI (National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information) has strongly opposed the proposed amendments to the RTI Act and said that it will completely “weaken and destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions.” The group has urged political parties to strongly oppose the move of the BJP-led NDA government to amend the RTI Act.

“It is a matter of grave concern that the government does not value the opinion of millions of people and information seekers whose fundamental right to information will be impacted through this amendment. The government is in flagrant violation of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of 2014 which mandates public disclosure and consultation on draft legislations. The proposed amendments to the RTI Act will completely destroy the autonomy of Information Commissions set up under the RTI Act to adjudicate on appeals and complaints of people who have been denied their rights under the RTI Act,” NCPRI stated.

The proposed amendments seek to empower the Central government to decide the tenure and salary and allowances of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions through rules. The government argues that unlike the Election Commission, which is a constitutional body, information commissions and statutory bodies and the matters of financial implications related to the information officers need to vest in the government.

Rationale by Govt is Fallacious: Civil Rights and RTI Activist Nikhil Dey

Speaking to Caravan Daily, eminent civil rights activist and founding member of NCPRI Nikhil Dey said, “Through this amendment bill, the government is trying to weaken the independence and authority of the Information commissions. Now government is interfering in the constitutional rights of central and state information commissions. They want to turn it in another government department.”

Civil Rights and RTI activist Nikhil Dey.

“Information commissions enforce the RTI Act. If they are removed then the whole Act will be undermined,” said Nikhil who is also one of the founding members and co-conveners of NCPRI.

He also said that the rationale by the government to justify the amendments is “fallacious”. “By simply giving salaries you are not making it a statutory body. You are giving it stature, power and authority,” he argued.

Nikhil also questioned government’s intention behind not bringing the proposed amendments in the public domain. “The government did not ask anyone before proposing the amendment while this is a people’s law. They should have discussed it in public domain and sought people’s opinion,” he said.

Transparency and Lokpal

Recalling the 2014 election promise of BJP and Narendra Modi regarding the Lokpal Act, Nikhil said, the government has completed more than four years, but it has not yet enacted the Lokpal law.

They make doublespeak on electoral bond which was brought in the name of transparency. This provision allows any company to give any amount of donation to any political party in hidden way. Is this transparency? They have changed the meaning of transparency altogether, he said.

Vacancies in Commissions, Threats to Whistle-blowers Need more govt Attention

NCPRI pointed out that instead of any amendment in RTI, there are several issues that require urgent attention of the government to ensure proper functioning of the RTI Act. Filling of the large number of vacancies in information commissions, addressing issue of attacks on information seekers by implementing the “Whistleblowers Protection Act”, addressing poor implementation of proactive disclosures etc need first attention.

“Despite hectic and lengthy process, people across the country seek to take lots of information through this RTI Act. Still, in more than 90% cases, the required information is not given,” Nikhil said

Meanwhile, after severe criticism from the opposition over the proposed amendments in the RTI Act, the government did not introduce the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday and at a meeting of the Rajya Sabha Business Advisory Committee, the government agreed to send the RTI Amendment Bill to a select committee of Rajya Sabha.

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