On August 1, 2019, the President of India assented to two key amendments to the country’s Right to Information (RTI) Act. Both amendments were passed by the Indian Parliament last month. The first amendment takes away the firmly rooted security of tenure of five years that Information Commissioners currently enjoy. And the second allows the government to dictate the terms and conditions of service of Information Commissioners.
On 22 July 2019, the Rajya Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 by a voice vote amid a walkout from the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the other opposition parties. The legislation was passed after the Opposition’s proposal to send the RTI Amendment Bill to select committee was defeated with 117-75 in the Rajya Sabha.
The RTI bill was earlier passed in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2019, three days after it was introduced by the government. In the Lok Sabha, 218 members voted in favour of the RTI (Amendment) Bill, while 79 went against the legislation.
Describing the legislation as “clumsy”, Minister of State (MoS) in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh tabled the RTI (Amendment) Bill, asserting it will lead to ease of delivery of RTI Act. He also described it as enabling legislation for administration purposes.
Earlier, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi had alleged that the Narendra Modi government is “hell-bent on completely subverting” the RTI Act. Sonia Gandhi had also alleged that the government wants to “destroy” the independence of the Central Information Commission. Her reaction came a day after the Lok Sabha passed the RTI Amendment Bill.
“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,” Sonia Gandhi said in the statement.
Advocate Ashish Goel practicing law in Indian courts comments that “the manner in which it was passed in both Houses of Parliament within a matter of days are deeply questionable. The government did not let the Bill go through any kind of public scrutiny. Nor was the Bill referred to the Standing Committee. This is despite the fact that the Bill, when notified for introduction in the monsoon session of Parliament last year, faced the flak of RTI activists and opposition parties alike.”
“The amendments are much likely to be challenged on grounds of being ultra vires of the Constitution and hopefully our constitutional courts would see through this stratagem,” Advocate Goel criticised the amendments while writing in International Journal of Constitutional Law Blog.
Compiled by Law Desk (SOURCE: indiatoday.in & iconnectblog.com).