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TOI EDIT- Don’t Cage RTI Downgrading information commissioners can seriously damage accountability of babus

COURTESY TIMES OF INDAI JULY 22

Don’t Cage RTI
Downgrading information commissioners can seriously damage accountability of babus
Government’s unfortunate move to amend the Right to Information Act will weaken the signature legislation, that reverses the opacity and bureaucratic disdain which makes governance inaccessible for ordinary citizens. The proposed amendment whittles down security of tenure for information commissioners from the existing term of five years in office or upon reaching the age of 65 to “such terms as may be prescribed by the central government”. Salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service of central (and state chief) information commissioners, now at par with election commissioners, will instead be “such as may be prescribed by the central government”.

In short, a move to undermine the status of the central and state information commissions – and turn them into “caged parrots” as the Supreme Court chose to describe the CBI – is afoot. Replacing a fixed statutory term that offers security of tenure with one where information commissioners (ICs) serve at the pleasure of government and on terms set by it impinges on institutional autonomy. The Act’s provisions offering parity with election commissioners had bestowed tremendous prestige upon ICs. It was a signifier of autonomy and to not be chary when issuing orders to all-powerful government officers unwilling to share information with citizens.


There is no cogent reason to reverse this spirit of the RTI Act or grudge the quasi-parity with constitutional authorities like EC. Union minister Jitender Singh told Parliament that the information commission was only a statutory body but “clumsy” and “hasty” passage of the Act had “given the IC the status of a Supreme Court judge and at the same time left the provision of appeal to the High Court”. Without a trace of irony he also claimed the amendment bill was intended to streamline and strengthen the RTI Act.

Diluting such a popular law will hurt NDA’s credibility and can dent the huge mandate received in May. Weakening RTI Act plays into bureaucracy’s hands. After all, citizens had used RTI to combat red tape. To actually strengthen RTI Act, promptly filling IC vacancies and more proactive mandatory disclosures of information will help. In 2017-18, RTI applications to central government increased 35% and first appeals against denial of information shot up 22% from the preceding year. Given these realities, any move to undermine information commissioners sends wrong signals on anti-corruption and transparency

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