New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) Several former information commissioners said on Wednesday that the government, which has been advocating corruption-free system, should strengthen the Right To Information (RTI) and not dilute it, by bringing in the Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019.
They expressed apprehension of some “secrecy” over the Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019 and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
They also urged the people to raise their voice against the proposed legislation as it “undermines” the constitutional rights of the common man.
Addressing the media at the Indian Women’s Press Corps here, first Chief Information Commissioner of India Wajahat Habibullah said, “RTI strengthens governance. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants a corruption-free government in the country, it is time to strengthen the RTI and not dilute or control it”.
The former bureaucrat, who on several occasions has spoken about the issue, asked: “What was the necessity of the Amendment as the bill was downgrading the level of the Information Commissioners?”
He said even Union Minister Jitendra Singh was very weak on facts during the debate in Parliament.
He also held some of his former colleagues responsible as the draft was not in keeping with the law.
He said the argument that the Election Commission of India is a constitutional authority and the Information Commission is not is “absurd”. The ECI was made a constitutional authority because elections are a constitutional right, he said, adding similarly the RTI in the Supreme Court judgment has been held to be part of Article 91 A, and therefore, a fundamental right.
The Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019 was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid strong protests by the Opposition.
The amendment Bill seeks to empower the Centre on deciding the salaries and other terms of service of Information Commissioners (ICs).
With the amendment, the Centre will notify the tenure of all ICs at state and Central level and salaries and allowances of these officers will be determined by the Central Government.
First woman Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission Deepak Sandhu said there was no pre-legislative consultation which was mandatory for such an important amendment bill.
She said that in 2017, the same government had rationalised the salaries of about 19 statutory bodies while heads and members of 17 were made equivalent to the position of the Chief Election Commissioner. “Why was the Information Commission identified and removed from the entire lot of statutory bodies?” she asked.
Prof M.M. Ansari, former information Commissioner, said that by bringing in the amendment, the purpose of the government was to dilute the Information Commission.
He said with this bill, the government was bent upon suppressing the people’s exercise to seek information and to expose corrupt practices.
Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu said it was surprising that since 2014 not a single vacancy has been filled.
Stating the RTI as the best legislation in the world, Acharyulu said the RTI should not be touched and the bill should be withdrawn.
Former Information Commissioner Annapurna Dixit also shared the same views, demanding withdrawal of the Bill.