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RTI Act amended in the face of strong opposition

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on July 22, 2019 Published on July 22, 2019

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The Congress dubs amendments as an ‘elimination’ of the transparency statute

The Opposition dubbed the amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, pushed in the Lok Sabha on Monday, as a move to ‘eliminate’ the statute because it militates against the, ‘culture of secrecy and arbitrariness’ in the ruling dispensation.

The Lok Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to amend Sections 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act, a move that links the status of Central Information Commissioners with that of Election Commissioners and the State Information Commissioners with the State Chief Secretary.

The move has been dubbed by rights activists as a ‘complete dilution’ of the structural mechanism around the statute. Leading the debate against the Bill, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the amendments are aimed at undermining the authority of the Central and State Information Commissioners because the government wants to hollow out credible oversight mechanisms.

Tharoor said the idea is to turn the RTI into another ‘toothless tiger’ like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) because the government is threatened by disclosures that were ordered on issues ranging from ‘the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications to demonetisation’.

‘More power to govt’

Rejecting the criticism, the government said that these were ‘routine’ amendments aimed at streamlining the functioning of information commissions and the Opposition was “ ‘misleading’ the people.

In his intervention, Tharoor said the proposed changes arm the government with powers to hire and fire independent information commissioners. “It is not an Amendment Bill but an elimination bill,” he said.

The Act was a monumental achievement for the country’s democracy and it challenged the vested interests of the government, the former Union Minister said.

He questioned why the Bill has been brought ‘without any public consultation’. “Why is the government desperate to rush through the Bill? Is it because the CIC delivered an order on the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications?” Tharoor asked.

He said four posts of information commissioners are lying vacant in CIC. “The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, is a deliberate attempt to undermine the RTI Act,” Tharoor alleged.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh said the opposition is ‘misguiding’ the people by saying the government wants to weaken the RTI Act by bringing the bill. “From the beginning of its first term in 2014, the Modi government has brought transparency in governance for greater public participation,” Singh said.

Published on July 22, 2019

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