The RTI 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. The RTI Act requires every government body to computerize their records for the wide dissemination of information.

Right to Information Act, 2005

  • The Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 was passed by the Parliament in June 2005 and it came into force in October 2005.
  • The RTI Act replaced Freedom of information Act, 2002 with an aim to provide for the setting up of a practical regime of the right to information for citizens.
  • The RTI Act is a legal right of every Indian citizen.
  • Under its provisions, any citizen of India may request information from a public authority and the authority will be required to reply within 30 days.
  • The request for the information is submitted to the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer.
  • The RTI has been used to question every public institution on matters of public interest like the Reserve Bank of India, the Finance Ministry, on demonetisation, non-performing assets, the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, electoral bonds, unemployment figures, the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner(CVC) etc.
  • Importance of RTI can be ascertained from the fact thatnearly 60 lakh RTI applications are being filed every year.

RTI Amendment Bill: Proposed Amendments

  • The RTI Amendment Bill, 2019 proposes to amend Sections 13 and 16 of the RTI Act, 2005.
  • The sections laid down the tenure and salaries of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at both the central and state level.
  • The RTI Amendment Bill, however, proposes that the Central Government will decide the tenure, salaries and allowances of all Information Commissioners.
  • While the original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as the same as that of an Election Commissioner, and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government

Issues in the proposed amendment

  • The information related to decision-making at the highest level has in most cases eventually been accessed because of the independence and high status of the Information Commission.
  • It has been acknowledged that one of the most important structural constituents of any independent oversight institution, i.e. the CVC, the Election Commissioners (CEC), the Lokpal, and the CIC is a basic guarantee of tenure.
  • Thus, these amendments will lead to the dismantling of transparency architecture as they empower the Central government to unilaterally decide tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners (both at the Centre and the States).
  • These amendments fundamentally weaken an important part of the RTI architecture.
  • The amendments wouldempower 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.
  • They violate the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions, and thereby significantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India
  • RTI Bill removes the organisation’s independence.
  • The Bill is being seen as a “threat to the independence” of the Central Information Commissioner.

Independent structures set up to regulate and monitor the government are vital to a democratic state committed to deliver justice and constitutional guarantees. The separation of powers is a concept which underscores this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances. So when power is centralised, the freedom of expression is threatened which can lead to the decline of democracy.