India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photographer: Paul Miller/Bloomberg)

Why Modi Government’s Bid To Amend RTI Act Faces Opposition

The Narendra Modi-led NDA government is expected to table a bill to amend the Right to Information Act for bringing the terms of service of chief information commissioners under its control.

If passed, the legislation will bring government control in deciding the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms and conditions of central and state chief information commissioners. As of now, the RTI law says that they should have a fixed term and salary should be equivalent to that of chief election commissioner.

Activist Anjali Bhardwaj posted a copy of the bill online. To explain the rationale behind the move, the bill 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.”

Through this bill, the government can decide the tenure and salaries of information commissioners, which right now is under Parliament’s purview, Bhardwaj said. “The government is trying to clamp down on the independent functioning of information commissioners,” she told BloombergQuint. “This might worry a commissioner that if he gives an order which is inconvenient to the government, his term might not be renewed.”

The government is trying to usurp these (Parliamentary) rights.
Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI Activist 

Shailesh Gandhi, former chief information commissioner, said there’s “a more sinister angle to this” than just changing tenures and salaries. “I think it's to show them their place as you call it,” Gandhi told BloombergQuint. “Because of one particular order saying that the Prime Minister’s education qualification should be put into public domain, it appears the government is very miffed.”

Opposition leaders cutting across party lines opposed the move. “Every Indian has the right to know the truth. The BJP believes the truth must be hidden from the people and they must not question people in power,” Congress party President Rahul Gandhi tweeted. “The changes proposed to the RTI will make it a useless Act. They must be opposed by every Indian.”

The RTI Act was introduced and passed during the tenure of first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2005.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury criticised the move and promised to oppose it.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the amendment has been brought in without any consultation and the intention behind this move is to weaken the information commission and bring it under the government’s control. “This can be used to intimidate information commissioners from giving information to the public,” he said in a video message on twitter.