RTI act stands on brink of extinction, says Sonia Gandhi
A day after the Lok Sabha passed amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act amid strong protests by opposition parties, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi said the Centre is “hell-bent on subverting the law” that now stands on the “brink of extinction”.
In a statement on Tuesday, she said it is clear the central government sees the RTI Act as a “nuisance” and wants to destroy the status and independence of Central Information Commission.
“It is a matter of utmost concern that the central government is hell-bent on completely subverting the historic Right to Information Act, 2005. This law, prepared after widespread consultations and unanimously passed by Parliament, now stands at the brink of extinction,” she added.
As head of the National Advisory Council (NAC) during the Congress-led UPA government, Gandhi was involved in consultations to draft the RTI bill before it was passed by Parliament.
“Over the past decade and more, 60 lakh of our countrymen and women have used RTI and helped usher in a culture of transparency and accountability in administration,” she said.
The foundations of democracy have, as a result, been strengthened immeasurably, Gandhi said. The weaker sections of society have benefited greatly by the proactive use of RTI by activists and others. “It is clear the present central government sees the RTI Act as a nuisance and wants to destroy the status and independence of the Central Information Commission which was put on par with the Central Election Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission,” she said.
“The central government may use its legislative majority to achieve its aims but in the process it would be disempowering each and every citizen of our country,” added Gandhi.
The Lok Sabha on Monday passed a bill to amend the RTI Act to give the Centre the power to set the salaries and service conditions for chief information commissioners (CIC) and information commissioners (ICs). The changes will apply to ICs at the Centre and the states. The bill still has to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha before it becomes a law.
The opposition parties protested the changes and activists argued that the alterations would weaken the legislation.
According to the law passed in 2005, information commissioners will have a five-year tenure or serve until the age of 65. But the new one says the Centre shall prescribe their term.
The 2005 law says the salaries of the CIC and ICs at the Centre will be the same as those of the chief election commissioner and election commissioners, and that those of state CICs and ICs will be the same as election commissioners and state chief secretaries respectively. But the new law says the salaries will be prescribed by the Centre.
The government has rejected the Opposition charge that the amendments would weaken the Act. “There is no merit in their criticism as the amendment in no way compromises the autonomy of the Information Commission,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday.