BJP launches final assault on RTI, alleges Sonia Gandhi

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on October 31, 2019

Congress President Sonia Gandhi. File Photo   -  PTI

The term of Office for the Information Commissioners is now at the discretion of the Central Government, says UPA Chairperson

As the Central Government announced a new set of rules under the recently amended RTI Act, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the BJP government has launched its final assault to decimate RTI.

She said in a statement that the historic legislation gave birth to an institution that in the last 13 years has become a sentinel of democracy, transparency and accountability to the common man.

"BJP government has now launched its final assault to decimate RTI. To further erode and dilute its effectiveness, the Modi-government has passed amendments which diminish the office of the Information Commissioner in a manner that it leaves them at the mercy of very government it is required to hold accountable," she said in a statement.

She claimed that the law altered the relationship between citizens and their Government on a scale that has not been witnessed since. "RTI activists across the country have used the law to tackle corruption, to measure the effectiveness of Government policies and to illuminate the deficiencies in processes such as demonetisation and elections," she said.

"It is no secret that the Modi-government has seen this remarkable institution as an obstacle to enforcing their majoritarian agenda without being held accountable to people. For the majority of their first term, several of the Information Commissioner offices remained vacant, including that of the Chief Information Commissioner (for ten months)," she added.

A chilling effect on Infomation Commissioners

After the amendments, she said, the term of Office for the Information Commissioners is now at the discretion of the Central Government. "Under the 2005 law, the term was fixed for five years to ensure independence from executive interference and intimidation. This has now been reduced to three years and is at the continuing discretion of the Central Government. Any official who allows the release of information against the Government can now be swiftly removed or simply not continued in office. This will have a chilling effect on all Information Commissioners- Central and State," she added.

The UPA Chairperson said the salaries, allowances and terms of conditions, which were equal to the Election Commissioners, shall now be as prescribed by the Central Government. "In other words, the salaries and benefits can be changed whenever the Modi-government so desires. By reducing the benefits for these important posts, the Modi-government has ensured that no senior self-respecting official would agree to work under such monitored circumstances. These amendments will also ensure that no Information Commissioner shall be free from interference and signalling by the Modi-government," she said.

She also alleged that this will allow the Modi-government to appoint submissive officials, who don’t mind serving at the pleasure of the state and who will not allow questions that the Government finds inconvenient to answer. "We have opposed these amendments in Parliament and will continue to oppose them in practice. We condemn this piecemeal destruction of our democratic institutions and will continue to fight the Modi-government in these self-serving actions which are the very opposite of national interest," she said.

Published on October 31, 2019

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