Lok Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill; Government to decide pay, tenure of information commissioners

The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Bill proposing amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act which could seriously impact the autonomy of information commissioners (ICs).The Bill, which has been criticised by activists and Opposition parties for diluting the 2005 Act, empowers the central government to make rules on deciding the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of ICs of the central and state information commissions. While 218 members voted in favour of the Bill, 79 went against it in the Lower House of Parliament. The amendment Bill will need to go through the Rajya Sabha or the upper house also before it finally replaces the current Act. Opposition members and activists believe the amendments will weaken the institution and make it subordinate to government departments. They argued the Bill will take away freedom of the ICs to order disclosure of crucial information by the government. Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the Bill is a threat to independence of central information commissioner. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also called it an RTI elimination Bill as it It is an This Bill is removing the two greatest armours of institutional independence and on top of that, by controlling the state information commissioners, by taking over the power to determine their salaries, the Central government is destroying it, The current Act stipulates a fixed tenure of five years for ICs (subject to the age limit of 65 years). The salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief of the CIC are the same as that of the chief election commissioner. Those of the central information commissioners and state chief information commissioners are on a par with election commissioners. The chief and other election commissioners are paid a salary equal to the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court, which is decided by Parliament. MoS in the PMO Jitendra Singh said the Opposition was misguiding the people by claiming that the Bill will weaken the Act. The Act missed certain issues which are being addressed through this Bill. The sections which deal with the autonomy are untouched in the Act,