Has the Right to Information Act been weakened?

Has the Right to Information Act been weakened?

News:

  1. Recently, the government has proposed to amend the RTI Act 2005.

Important facts:

2. Nikhil Dey, founder member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakit Sangathan has  put forward the following arguments in favour of amendment:

  • The equivalence in salaries with the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is not acceptable because the CEC is a constitutional authority.
  • The RTI Act does not seek to make the Information Commission a constitutional body.
  • The amended Bill will promote efficiency and accountability throughout the country.
  • The existing provisions of the act do not have an express provision regarding the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the CIC and ICs. Therefore amendment is necessary.
  • The RTI act did not create a new bureaucracy for implementing the law.
  • Under the RTI Act, the information sought by applicants is not given in time, wrong or inadequate information is given, and penalties are not imposed on officials for their lapses.

3. Bhupender Yadav, Politician has put forward the following   arguments against amendment:

  • The amendments will structurally weaken and nullify the entire Act.
  • The Bill does not intend to make any fundamental changes to the Act instead, it will make the RTI Act more transparent by way of providing express provisions for salaries, allowances, and other conditions of service of the CIC and ICs.
  • It would enable the central government to determine the tenure, salaries, allowances, and other terms of service of the central and state information commissioners. This will undermine the independence of the RTI mechanism .
  • It neither takes away nor weakens the powers of the CIC or ICs.
  • In the amended Bill, CIC, ICs, and State CIC become equivalent to a judge of the Supreme Court in terms of their salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of services.
  • The functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the Central and State Information Commissions are very different. Therefore their status and service conditions need to be rationalized accordingly.
  • On the other hand, the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions are statutory bodies established under the RTI Act.
  • The Election Commission is a constitutional body established under Article 324 of the Constitution and is responsible for the conduct of all elections to Parliament, State legislatures and to the post of President and Vice-President.

4. Bimal Julka, an Information Commissioner  has put the following  suggestions on the subject.

  • There is need to think about the pragmatic issues confronting implementation of the Act.
  • There is a paradigm shift in understanding the meaning of ‘information’ as contained in Section 2(f) and (j) of the Act.
  • The applicants are seeking redress of their personal grievances beyond the jurisdiction of the Commission.
  • The Supreme Court in CBSE v Aditya Bandopadhyay(2011), decided that the RTI Act could only provide information that was available.
  • However, In Union of India v. Namit Sharma(2013), the court held that “ the Information Commission does not decide a dispute between two or more parties concerning their legal rights other than right to get information in possession of a public authority.
  • There is  a need to reassess the understanding of the term public good or public interest in the broader context of the RTI mechanism.
  • Need to focus on reassessing the efficacy of the RTI on the substantive issues of providing information and enforcing the provisions of the Act.
  • The awareness of applicants and respondents through periodic seminars, workshops, etc.
  • All statekholders including public, youth organizations, and NGOs should create awareness about the provisions of the Act so that RTI mechanism can be strengthened.
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