Government

Centre Changed RTI Law and Rules on Salaries, Tenures Without Consulting CIC

The Narendra Modi government had pushed these amendments forward despite protests from activists and the opposition.

New Delhi: The Centre did not ask the Central Information Commission (CIC) for comments on the Right to Information Amendment Act, 2019 and the subsequently promulgated rules, a query filed by an RTI activist has revealed.

In response to a query filed by Anjali Bhardwaj, the CIC replied on November 18, “No comments were sought and provided by CIC.”

Reacting to the response she received, Bhardwaj said, “The surreptitious manner in which the amendments were brought, and the rules promulgated, constitutes a violation of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of 2014 which requires all draft rules to be placed in the public domain for comments/suggestions of people. Further, Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act puts an obligation on the government to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public.”

The RTI Amendment Act, 2019 was passed by parliament in July 2019. It amended Sections 13, 16 and 27 of the RTI Act, 2005 to empower the Central government to prescribe rules to decide tenure, salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners of the CIC and all state information commissions (SICs).

Also read: The Right to Information Is Dead. Here Is its Obituary.

The proposal was strongly opposed by RTI activists and opposition parties alike, as it sought to diminish the commissioners’ independence by empowering the Centre to decide on their tenures and salaries.

Bhardwaj said, “The government brought in amendments to the RTI Act despite protests across the country and opposition from several political parties. There were no public consultations on the amendments and the bill was not referred to a parliamentary deliberative committee for detailed discussions.”

Centre did not seek CIC comments on RTI amendment, new rules

To know the CIC’s stand on the new rules, Bhardwaj filed an RTI application.

She demanded that she be provided a copy of the letter or note through which the comments of the CIC were sought on the amendments. She also asked for a copy of the comments, correspondence or notings sent by the CIC on that Bill. The central public information officer, though, responded saying “no record for the information is available”.

Also read: Information Commissioners’ Tenures, Salaries Now Firmly in Centre’s Hands

Bhardwaj said following the amendments to the RTI Act, the Central government also promulgated rules to define the salaries, tenure and terms of service of information commissioners. “The rules were also not put through any process of public consultation. The CIC has also confirmed, in response to an RTI application, that the government did not seek its comments on the rules.”

While saying that no record was available, the CPIO added that the application was being transferred to “C. Vinod Babu, consultant SO and CPIO Admin”. On November 18, Babu, while responding to the query, wrote to Bhardwaj saying, “No comments were sought and provided by CIC”.

Government reply in Rajya Sabha

Bhardwaj has also pointed out that a July 27, 2019 reply in the Rajya Sabha by minister of state in the PMO Jitendra Singh on the RTI Amendment Bill highlighted the government’s thought process. Singh heads the Department of Personnel and Training, which is the nodal department for all RTI matters.

In the reply, in response to a query on why there were no public consultations on the amendments, he said: “The question was: Why was it not put in the public forum? My response is that…at this moment, we are dealing with certain functionaries, certain points. Kuchh adhikariyon kay kitnay waitan rahe, kitnay nahin rahe (What was the salary of some officials that remained, or did not remain). It is between the government and the officers, not the public. That is our response.”