RTI Bill introduced amid Opposition flak

Centre to set service terms of panel

Amid protests by the Opposition parties, a Bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act and give the Union government the power to set the service conditions and salaries of Information Commissioners was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday.

The Bill was eventually introduced after the Treasury benches won a vote with 224 MPs supporting it and nine opposing.

Though the Congress opposed the introduction of the Bill with senior leader Shashi Tharoor calling it an “RTI elimination Bill”, the party chose to walk out when Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi demanded a vote.

Power with Centre

The new Bill seeks to change the status of the Information Commissioners who are on a par with the Election Commissioners, and states that the term of office, salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions shall be “as prescribed by the Central government”. Currently, Section 13(5) of the Act provides that these are equivalent to that of the Chief Election Commissioner for the Chief Information Commissioner and to an Election Commissioner for an Information Commissioner.

“The functions being carried out by the Election Commission and the Central and State Information Commissions are totally different. The Election Commission of India is a constitutional body… On the other hand, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions are statutory bodies established under the Right to Information Act, 2005,” the Bill said.

Introducing the amendment, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh said the Bill is aimed at institutionalisation and streamlining of the RTI Act. He said it strengthened the overall RTI structure, corrected anomalies and described it as an enabling legislation for administration purposes.

“Has it ever happened that the CIC has the status of a Supreme Court judge but the judgment can be appealed in a High Court,” asked the Minister as the Opposition protested.

Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the draft law was a threat to the independence of the Central Information Commission while Mr. Tharoor said this Bill was actually an “RTI elimination Bill” removing two greater powers of institutional independence.

Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy sought that the Bill be referred to a parliamentary standing committee. He said only 26% Bills were referred to such panels in the last Lok Sabha.

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