Citizens need to be vigilant to prevent emasculation of the RTI Act
At least on three occasions the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, which takes credit for promulgating the Right To Information (RTI) act, had tried to amend it. A strong citizen protest ensured that these attempts were quietly shelved. 
 
For past few months there are rumours that the present government plans to amend this citizen empowerment law. Many RTI applications were filed in the first week of May with DOPT (Department of Personnel & Training) to get details about the proposed amendments.  A response received in June confirmed the plan and revealed that a proposal was already before the cabinet. It said, “The matter regarding amendment in the RTI Act, 2005 is under consideration and has not reached finality. As per section 8(1)( i) of the RTI Act, 2005, information requested by you cannot be supplied at this stage.” Most of us, RTI activists, were however confident that the government, as required by its pre-legislative consultation policy, would share the draft amendment bill for public discussion and feedback before presenting it to parliament. 
 
However, the RTI amendment bill was listed in the schedule for the monsoon session last week. There was no information available about the proposed amendments. The government’s decision not to follow the public consultation process is unfortunate. 
 
The amendment bill is now available to us and a close reading shows that the amendments are primarily for downgrading the position of Information Commissioners. At present, Central Information Commissioners (CICs) are at par with the Central Election Commissioners, and State Information Commissioners are at par with Chief Secretaries of States. The term of office for all is five years. The amendments give the central government complete power to decide the terms of office, salary and the tenure of the information commissioners. In the statement of objects and reasons, the explanation offered for the this exercise is that Central Election Commissioners are constitutional positions, whereas the Information Commissioners are a creation of a statute. 
 
 A constitutional position is one that finds mention in the constitution, whereas a statutory position is one that is created by a law. The legal position of both are the same. The argument given by the government to downgrade and arbitrarily decide the position, salaries and term for the Information Commissioners by amending the law seems facetious. This does not seem to be adequate cause for amending the law. There appears to be an agenda behind this and I will attempt to spell out the probable reasons and implications:
 
1. There are orders of the central information commission directing the government to disclose certain information, such as the degree of the Prime Minister, which it feels are impertinent. Perhaps the government wishes to put the commission in its place by assuming greater control over it.
 
2. Devaluing the commissioners will reduce their impact on senior public servants, where hierarchy is supreme. It would lead to some absurd situations and allow CIC orders to be ignored more than they are today. This would naturally reduce the efficacy of the commissions.
 
3. This may be a trial balloon to carry out further amendments to weaken the Act later. 
 
4. Many regulatory bodies and tribunals have been created by statute. Some examples are the Green tribunal, the Minorities Commission, the Child Rights Commission, the Human Rights Commission, Lokayuktas , Niti Ayog, the different financial and sectoral regulators (telecom, insurance, electricity, pension etc). Perhaps the government is signaling to them that if they do not comply with its diktat, their positions too can be downgraded.
 
The government already controls these regulators with its control over the selection process. But they are still capable of acting independently sometimes, and this could be a signal to all of them. Whenever a Lokpal is chosen the message will be clear. Since it will be a statutory body, it must not annoy the government or it can be downgraded.
 
5. The downgrade could be just a bait to get the opposition disrupt the forthcoming session of parliament on the grounds that there was no consultative process;  this would ensure that other pressing issues including financial frauds and bad loans are not discussed. 
 
6. Another sinister plot may be to render the Central Commission dysfunctional. By the end of the year, there will only be three central commissioners left owing to retirements. The government is not appointing new commissioners, probably pending the amendment. Activists have gone to the court to seek direction to the government to appointment information commissioners. If the bill is placed in parliament and not passed -- which is quite likely -- the government may argue that it will appoint information commissioners only after the RTI act is amended. 
 
It would be a real shame if things play out as I have envisaged. Having obtained one of the best transparency laws in the world, the government is now trying to emasculate citizen empowerment. Unfortunately for us, most people in power are ranged against RTI, precisely because it empowers ordinary persons. Citizens will have to show vigilance to ensure that RTI is not weakened.  This is a test that we cannot fail if we want a better democracy and a better India.
 
(Mr Gandhi is a former Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act)
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    COMMENTS

    Vinod Garg

    1 year ago

    This is a mockery of the democratic rights given to us by the UPA government and now since present government do not believe for strengthening this act because govt has surrender before the coterie of senior beuorocracy therefore now they are busy in dilute this act.
    In recent act of DOPT to dilute the powers of CIC by amendments by bringing the resolution have been defeated due to strongly opposition by activities.

    Vishnu Waghmare

    1 year ago

    Very timely article. There is a ploy to weaken the law & make mockery of democracy. This is high time that citizens should come together to defeat ulterior motive of the politicians and bureaucracy

    Cannot come under ambit of RTI Act, says Goa Raj Bhavan
    The Raj Bhavan in Goa on Wednesday told the State Information Commission that the office of the Governor does not come under the ambit of "public authority" and therefore the Raj Bhavan is outside the purview of the Right to Information Act.
     
    In a 15-page affidavit submitted to the Commission, Rupesh Thakur, Secretary to the Governor, said the Governor enjoys immunity under Article 361 of the Indian Constitution and therefore is not answerable to any Court or the Commission.
     
    "The Governor is the appointing authority of the State Information Commissioners and is also vested with the power to recommend their removal," the affidavit also stated.
     
    The affidavit was filed after a city-based lawyer-activist Aires Rodrigues in a complaint to the Commission had said that since the Goa Raj Bhavan was a public authority, the institution's failure to appoint a Public Information Officer was "illegal, mala fide and without reasonable cause".
     
    The next hearing in the case has been set for July 26.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
     

     

  • User

    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    1 year ago

    This is hogwash. In fact bestowing the status and perks of CEC, EC and Chief Secretary to State governments have reduced the information commissions to rehabilitation homes for the worst babus retiring from government service! For a job that is simpler than that of a munsif this was a pre planned measure to subvert the law which is other wise so simple, clear, unambiguous. It continues to remain on paper the most citizen friendly and only pro democracy law in this land. Regarding amendments to the RTI rules, when the government had started public consultations I had submitted a very detailed list. It is available at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist. Regarding the author of this article, Shailesh Gandhi, he is the only RTI activist who got the opportunity to work as an information commissioner. He is acclaimed for setting the bench marks for disposal. But my own experience prove that he was a total failure. I had submitted a 2nd appeal after failing to get satisfactory replies to my application seeking status of 4 of my 2nd appeals pending with the CIC. Shailesh Gandhi who decided the appeal proved to be a fraud by dismissing the appeal stating that all available information had been provided while nothing had been provided!The details are in the blog at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.in/2012/06/rti-act-shailesh-gandhi-and.html

    007

    1 year ago

    :)

    007

    1 year ago

    :)

    Hayath MS

    1 year ago

    Anyone who is appointed by current central regime is above constipation, above law and finally above God.

    REPLY

    Hayath MS

    In Reply to Hayath MS 1 year ago

    Moneylife, How to edit comments ???? I dont see edit or delete button !!!

    While Big Brother BCCI shies away, Delhi’s Cricket Association announces its PIO under RTI
    The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), big brother of the sport in the country is still shying away from coming under the ambit of Right to Information (Act) despite several orders, its younger brother, Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) went ahead and had appointed a Public Information Officer (PIO) to respond to queries under the Act. 
     
    In its 10 July 2018 decision, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked BCCI and the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs, to explain why it should not declare “BCCI as a public authority in view of various judicial pronouncements and the Law Commission’s recommendation in its 275th Report.” 
     
    In a press release issued recently, the DDCA said it already begun to accept applications under the Right to Information Act, since 25 June 2018. It states, “Please check the website www.ddca.in for further details and the process of application. The public information officer is Mr Pradeep Banerjee;  First Appellate Authority – Chief Executive Officer (when appointed) and; Second Appellate Authority – President of the Executive Committee/Administrator.”
     
    The press release further states that the DDCA declares itself public authority under the RTI Act, “as the Law Commission has recommended that BCCI should be subject to the Right to Information Act since all other National and State sports federations are amenable to the Right to Information Act.”
     
    “In keeping with this recommendation of the Law Commission and various judicial dicta, this State Association should be transparent and accessible to the public. The DDCA is a company and is bound by the provisions of the Companies Act and as such has to make accessible various important documents such as the minutes book of the company, and balance sheets. The Lodha reforms and judgements of the Supreme Court and High Court of Delhi have sought to make cricket bodies like the DDCA accountable and RTI is a step towards that objective,” the release says.
     
    In sharp contrast, BCCI, the father of all cricket bodies in India has once again denied information. In December 2017, one Geeta Rani sought information under RTI from Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, on the provision or guidelines under which the BCCI has been representing India and selecting players for the country; whether the players selected by BCCI are playing for India or BCCI; and how BCCI (a private association) can represent our country in the national and international cricket tournament.
     
    The CPIO of the Ministry replied that the information is not available with him as BCCI has not been declared as a public authority and so he could not transfer the RTI application to BCCI. RTI applicant Geeta then filed a first appeal but she got the same reply, so a second appeal was filed with the CIC.
     
    During the CIC hearing on 10 July 2018, Arun Kumar Singh, Under Secretary from the Ministry submitted that the Law Commission’s declaration as public authority is still under examination. CIC called for all documents pertaining to this ‘examination’.
     
    During the hearing, CIC Prof Sridhar Acharyulu observed that RTI applicant Geeta has raised “a very important issue regarding the status of the cricket team selected by BCCI. Her question whether it is ‘a Team India’ or ‘Team BCCI’ raises an issue of exclusive authorisation of BCCI to select a team for India.” He pointed out that “the apex court and other High Courts have expressed many a time that the BCCI performs a public function and it is straightaway related to public activity because of which the BCCI should be accountable to the public in general and in public interest.”
     
    He further stated in his order that, “there have been several doubts raised by the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, even after the recommendation of the Law Commission as to whether the BCCI does come under the purview of the RTI Act.”
     
    Ordaining that now it is the responsibility of the CIC “to put an end to this prolonged uncertainty which makes the BCCI non-transparent and unaccountable without any moral backing and legal reasoning,” and so in public interest, “the BCCI should be made transparent, accountable and answerable under the Right to Information Act, 2005.”
     
    The CIC has directed the authorized representative of BCCI to explain why the Commission should not declare the BCCI as a public authority in view of various judicial pronouncements and the Law Commission’s recommendation in its 275th report. The CIC has also directed the CPIO of the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs to present its case as to why BCCI should not be declared as a public authority. ‘’ 
    The next CIC hearing has been slated for 1 August 2018.
     
    (Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
     
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    COMMENTS

    GLN Prasad

    1 year ago

    The horse was driven to the water tub--who makes it to drink water ? (sincere implementation...when those authorities who are within ambit for 12 years still are not aware of fundamentals)

    GOKUL

    1 year ago

    CIC already announced that the political parties are also come under RTI. But no use. CIC also announced that Indian Banking Association (IBA) is also come under RTI and it filed writ in Delhi and so, the case is still pending. So, even if CIC announce the BCCI is also come under RTI, it would go to file writ and the same would take another decade to decide.

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