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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

How BJP got the numbers for RTI bill passage | Analysis

It was critical that the BJP win over the two parties, with a combined strength of 13 MPs in the upper house, just as it was crucial that it get the TRS, with 6 members, to vote for the bill.

india Updated: Jul 27, 2019 07:08 IST
Sunetra Choudhury
Sunetra Choudhury
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The main challenge for the RTI bill was that various opposition parties had come  together a week before and signed a resolution that said they wanted the RTI amendment bill  to be sent to a select committee of Parliament.
The main challenge for the RTI bill was that various opposition parties had come together a week before and signed a resolution that said they wanted the RTI amendment bill to be sent to a select committee of Parliament. (HT Photo)
         

Behind the passage of the Right to Information amendment Bill of 2019 in Parliament on July 25 lies a story of how the government and its floor managers worked overtime to make sure it had the numbers -- even if they came from unlikely quarters. Hindustan Times has spoken to several of the leaders involved from various political parties to piece together just how the government managed to win the vote even though the numbers were stacked against it in the Rajya Sabha.

The main challenge for the RTI bill was that various opposition parties had come together a week before and signed a resolution that said they wanted the RTI amendment bill to be sent to a select committee of Parliament. Key among the signatories were two people, the BJD leader in the Rajya Sabha Prasanna Acharya and TRS leader Keshav Rao.

It was critical that the BJP win over the two parties, with a combined strength of 13 MPs in the upper house, just as it was crucial that it get the TRS, with 6 members, to vote for the bill.

Hindustan Times has learnt that on Wednesday, two union ministers, Piyush Goyal and Prahlad Joshi, called TRS MP Santhosh Kumar in Telangana. Kumar isn’t just another party MP but also a relative of chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao. Through Kumar, they spoke to Rao and requested him to support the bill. They also asked Kumar to rush back from Telangana and be in the house for the voting as “every vote counts.’’

“It is wrong to say they offered us anything, they just requested our support,’’ said a TRS leader familiar with the events who asked not to be named.

The BJD’s support was acquired through even more clever politics, another person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified. While a mandatory call for support was made to chief minister Naveen Patnaik, there was an unspoken understanding on another issue, said this person — the creation of a legislative council in the state. Then, there’s the fact that the Centre has already given ₹3,300 crore for cyclone relief to Odisha, this person added.

Acharya told the Rajya Sabha he changed his stance after “minister Jitendra Singh spoke to me and said the independence of the Chief Information Commissioner would not be compromised.”

Responding to a query from HT on why he had signed a demand for the bill to go to select committee and then changed his mind, he said, “I was opposed to it but the party high command conveyed we should vote for it.’’

BJP leaders didn’t want to comment on these behind the scenes development but are savouring their first success in breaking the opposition for the passage of a contentious law.

The bill allows the government to define the salaries and the terms of service of information commissioners who were hitherto treated on par with election commissioners. The opposition has argued that this will make information commissioners, critical to the effective implementation of the Right to Information law “subservient” to the state. The government claims the changes will make the implementation of the law more transparent and efficient.