•Parliament passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, recently
•The proposed amendments, give the union government the power to fix the tenure, salaries, and terms and conditions of service of the information commissioners (ICs), including the chief information commissioner (CIC) and the state information commissioners (SICs).
Justification of the Government
•The justifications offered by the union government, is provided in the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” of the RTI Bill.
•It seeks removing “anomalies” with respect to the status of ICs, the CIC, and SICs.
•The RTI Act, gave ICs a status equal to the chief election commissioner and election commissioners (ECs), which also puts them at par with judges of the Supreme Court insofar as salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service are concerned.
•Since the functions of the Election Commission of India (ECI) are very different from those of the Central Information Commission and state information commissions, and therefore the same need to be “rationalised.”
•RTI activists and members of the opposition parties fears that this amendment poses an existential threat to the RTI Act.
•Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has alleged that the amendment has been proposed with a view to “destroy the CIC’s status and independence”
•Two former CICs have argued that the bill may “kill” the RTI Act itself.
•They contend that ICs and Election Commissioners have equivalence of responsibilities which justifies their pay, allowance, and terms and conditions of service.
1.Terms of Central Information Commissioners
•Section 15 of the RTI Act is amended and the statutorily fixed term of five years for the CIC is replaced with a term to be decided by the government through rules made under the law.
•It removes the parity between the ICs and ECs by having salaries, allowances, and terms and conditions of service
•However, two caveats are present in the BIll
•the salaries, allowances, and terms and conditions of service cannot be varied to the disadvantage of ICs after appointment,
•ICs appointed before the bill becomes law will continue to be governed by the RTI Act as it stood before the amendment.
•The amendment will be prospective in nature.
2. State Information Commissioner
•The second clause reproduces the first clause, but in the context of SICs.
•It gives the union government power to make rules in respect of the matters pertaining to State ICs.
•Thus the executive, and not the legislature, will get to determine the terms and conditions of service of ICs.
Change in the salary of retired government officers
•The original RTI Act says that if the CIC and ICs both in State and Centre are receiving a pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, then their salaries are reduced by an amount equal to the pension.
•In the above context, the government service means, services under the central government, state government, corporation established under a central or state law, or company-owned or controlled by the central or state government.
•The amendment removes these provisions.
Effect of RTI Amendments
•Whether government can “punish” an independent-minded IC by removing them?
•The provision of the RTI Act governing the removal of ICs is not affected by this amendment and the rules cannot be changed to cut short the tenure of any one IC without violating main RTI Act as also Article 14 of the Constitution
•However, the rules framed for the purposes of the RTI Bill may tamper with the independence of the ICs.
•The RTI amendment will weaken the position of Information Commissioners
•It will be much easy to remove them, in case Government is not happy with them.
•Their lower status now would attract less talented people.
•It will attract more government officers due to change in the pension clause.