The Centre will introduce a Bill to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
The Bill proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of state and central Information Commissioners. Critics warn that such a move could dilute the effectiveness of the RTI Act and threaten the autonomy of the Information Commissions.
A version of this Bill was originally notified for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament last year and was circulated among members. However, facing opposition from political parties and RTI activists, the Centre did not actually introduce the Bill in that session.
The current law gives Information Commissioners a tenure of five years and salaries which match those of Election Commissioners. In a copy of the amendment Bill dated July 15, 2019, which has been circulated among Lok Sabha MPs, the Centre argues that the functions being carried out by the Election Commission are “totally different” from the Information Commissions. A statement of objects and reasons attached to the amendment Bill argues that while the Election Commission is a constitutional body, the Information Commissions are statutory bodies, and that their differing mandates mean that “their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly”.
“This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the Information Commissions as it will adversely impact the ability of commissioners to function in an independent manner,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information. She also pointed out that key concerns regarding federalism were raised by the Centre “usurping” for itself the powers to decide tenure and salaries of even state commissioners.