[Solved ]Recent amendments to the Right to information Act will have profound impact on the autonomy and independence of the Information Commission. Discuss (UPSC GS-2 Mains 2020)

The recent amendments introduced changes in the tasks, salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of the chief information commissioner and information commissioner as well as the national chief information commissioner and the state information commissioner as required by the central government.

  • It is said that the government can use indiscriminate terms of service to intimidate or tempt commissioners.
  • In addition, the center may have discretion. However, the reasons for proposing such amendments include: the salary and allowances of the Central Election Commission and the Election Commission and other service terms and conditions are the same as those of the Supreme Court judges; under this service condition, CIC, IC and SCIC cannot be equivalent to the Supreme Court judges .
  • The functions of ICE are completely different from those of the central and national information committees.
  • They are statutory bodies, and ICE is a constitutional body. If so, we may continue to link the right to information with the fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a).

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 has made amendment in the status, salary and tenure of the Central Information Commissioners (CICs) and State Information Commissioners.

On the account of amendments made in the RTI Act, the civil society has raised concerns regarding accountability, autonomy and independence of the Information Commission.

Amendments Done in the RTI Act

  • The amendment empowers the Central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners, both at the Centre and the States.
  • Due to this, civil society asserts that this amendment may affect the autonomy of the information commission and force it to function as a mere department of the Central government.
  • Also, the status of the Central Information Commissioners (CICs) has been brought on par with the Election Commissioners and the status of State Information Commissioners with the Chief Secretary in the States.
  • However, the amendment has neglected the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee that the Information Commissioner and CIC were to be made on par with the Election Commissioner and the Chief Election Commission, respectively.

Impact of Amendments

  • The amendment allows the interference of the executive in the functioning of Information commissions which are quasi-judicial bodies.
  • This will affect the doctrine of Separation of powers, which underscores this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances.
  • Independent structures set up to regulate and monitor the government are vital to a democratic state committed to delivering justice and constitutional guarantees.
  • Apart from this, the amendment also affects the constitutional principles of federalism, as now the central government can change terms of service of state information commission.
  • Unilateral power of the central government will lead to centralisation of power, which is not conducive for the exercise of the freedom of expression and may lead to the decline of participative democracy.

 2ARC Mention

The 2nd ARC held that RTI is the master key to governance. The RTI law has been a constant challenge to the misuse of power, a threat to arbitrariness, privilege, and corrupt governance. These amendments may undermine the independence of Information Commissions and affect the transparency & accountability architecture in India. Therefore, in the pursuit of good governance, the RTI Act requires strengthening of the provisions rather weakening.

Further reading

Why is it being opposed?

  • The original Act had quantified the tenures, and defined the salaries in terms of existing benchmarks.
  • The amendments are being viewed as implying that, in effect, the terms of appointment, salaries and tenures of the Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners can be decided on a case-to-case basis by the government.
  • This will take away the independence of the Right to Information Act authorities.
  • Therefore, the Bill is being seen as a “threat to the independence” of the Central Information Commissioner.
  • By diminishing the status of the CIC, IC and State CIC from that of a Supreme Court judge would reduce their ability to issue directives to senior government functionaries.
  • The amendments would empower the Centre to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of information commissioners of the Central and also State Information Commissions. 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.
  • The government has brought about the Bill in complete secrecy and there have been no public consultations on the Bill, which will impact the fundamental right to information of the citizens of the country.

What are the government’s stated grounds for bringing the amendments?

  • The statement of objects says “the mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly”.
  • CIC has been given the status of a Supreme Court Judge, but his judgments can be challenged in the High Courts.
  • Therefore, the amendments Have been brought to correct certain anomalies in the Right to Information Act. It does not dilute the Act in anyway and it was passed in a hurry in 2005. RTI Amendments would strengthen the overall RTI structure.
  • Over the last 14 years, how far has the RTI Act served the purposes for which it was introduced?
  • The right to Information Act is regarded as one of the most successful laws of independent India. It has given ordinary citizens the confidence and the right to ask questions of government authorities. According to estimates, nearly 60 lakh applications are being filed every year. It is used by citizens as well as the media. The law is seen as having acted as a deterrent for government servants against taking arbitrary decisions.

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