New Delhi: During the monsoon session of parliament in July, Centre had first tried introducing the RTI Amendment Bill 2018 in Rajya Sabha. But when activists and opposition leaders opposed the move saying it sought to undermine the powers under the original Act, the government had deferred it. Activists have now accused the Centre of stonewalling information regarding the proposed Bill.
Flagging the issue, activist Anjali Bhardwaj tweeted on Thursday that the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) – which is also the nodal department for RTI matters – refused to share the proposed amendments to the Act. Terming the refusal “yet another bizarre denial of information”, she said, “the amendment Bill was circulated to Rajya Sabha MPs in the last session of parliament but was never made public by the government.”
‘Secret amendments to transparency law’
Quipping that there might be “secret amendments to transparency law”, she also shared details of her RTI application in the matter.
In her application filed on July 23, Bhardwaj, a member of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), had asked for a copy of the RTI Amendment Bill, 2018. She had also asked for the reference number of the file or folder maintained by the DoPT for the Bill. Bhardwaj further requested that she be allowed to inspect the relevant files and file notings and be provided with the date on which the proposal for the amendment was prepared by the DoPT.
DoPT urged to provide information about consultative process
Bhardwaj had also stated that a decision was taken in the meeting of the Committee of Secretaries held on January 10, 2014 regarding the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy. It was decided therein that every department and ministry would be required to proactively place in the public domain all proposed legislation for a minimum period of 30 days. She had therefore asked for the exact website address on which the RTI Amendment Bill was proactively made available.
Finally, the activist had stated that the CIC in its decision on July 7, 2010 had directed that a credible mechanism be put in place for proactive and timely disclosure of draft legislations in the public domain. This was mandated under Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act. Therefore, she had also sought information on how such a procedure was adopted in the case of the RTI Amendment Bill.
However, in the reply, dated October 24, the DoPT said the matter regarding the amendment in the RTI Act, 2005 was “under consideration and has not reached finality”. It, therefore, took the plea that as per Section 8(1)(i), the information sought by her “cannot be supplied at this stage”.
‘Bill would compromise autonomy of information commissions’
In early July, the NCPRI had opposed attempts to dilute the RTI Act. It had organised a public meeting where a resolution was passed to demand that the RTI Act not be amended. The speakers had opposed the idea of placing in the hands of the Centre the powers of determining the tenure and salaries of all the information commissioners.
It was stated that if the Centre would decide the salaries and tenure of all the ICs, including the chiefs, in both the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions, it would compromise the autonomy of these institutions.
‘Amendment bill violative of constitutional provision, law panel recommendations’
Later, another prominent RTI activist, Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, charged that the proposed amendment Bill would also violate other set precedents. He had claimed that the proposal was violative of constitutional provisions, Law Commission recommendations and the Centre’s own earlier actions of harmonising salaries of other statutory tribunals and adjudicating authorities.
Activists had also questioned how even before the amendment Bill had been tabled in the parliament, DoPT had issued a controversial advertisement to fill up vacancies in the CIC. They said it had worked on the presumption that these amendments will receive parliamentary approval.