- Amid opposition, the government has recently introduced Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Lok Sabha to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005 to dilute the statutorily fixed tenure and service conditions of Information Commissioners.
About: RTI Act 2005
- Right to Information Act 2005 is an Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities.
- The basic objective of the Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
- With this Act, an informed citizen is better equipped to keep necessary vigil on the instruments of governance and make the government more accountable to the governed.
- Public Authority: The RTI Act in section 2(h) defines “public authority” as any authority or body or institution of selfgovernment established or constituted by Constitution or Central/State law or notification as well as a body/NGO owned, controlled or substantially financed by any Government
About Central Information Commission
- It has been constituted in 2005 under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
- It shall consist of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and such number of Central Information Commissioners (ICs) not exceeding 10.
- The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
- The decisions of the Commission are final and binding.
- Appointment: The members of the commission are appointed by a committee consisting of the PM (as Chair), LoP in Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister appointed by the PM.
- Eligibility: The members shall be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology,social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance.
State Information Commission
- The State Information Commissions have provisions similar to that of the Central Information Commission with States appointing the members and the Commissions having jurisdiction over state bodies.
Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019
Term of Information Commissioners:
- The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners (appointed at the central and state level) have a fixed term of five years.
- The amendment bill proposes to change the period of office of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner as for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
Determination of salary:
- The Act states that the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively.
- Similarly, the salary of the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be equivalent to the salary paid to the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively.
- The Bill seeks to give rule making power to the Central Government to determine the pay, allowances and service conditions of Information Commissioner.
Deductions in salary:
- At the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension.
- Previous government service includes service under: (i) the central government, (ii) state government, (iii) corporation established under a central or state law, and (iv) government company owned or controlled by the central or state government.
- The Bill removes these provisions.
Reason for the amendment:
- Information Commission was a statutory body and it was an anomaly to equate it to a constitutional body like Election Commission.
- The mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.
- The amendments weaken the authority of Information Commissioners.
- The amendment affecting State Information Commissioners is considered as an inroad into the powers of States.
- The move will affect independence and neutrality of the transparency panel.