SC flags Centre’s lack of response on Ramesh’s plea against RTI amendment

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed dissatisfaction withh the Centre for not submitting a response for more than a year, on a plea by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh challenging the 2019 RTI Amendment Act.

A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M. R. Shah noted that a notice was issued in the matter in January last year. Advocate Kanu Agarwal, representing the Centre, sought time to file reply. Citing the notice last year, the bench asked why no counter-affidavit has been filed in over a year.

“This is a very important matter,” it noted. After a brief hearing in the matter, the top court granted two weeks to Centre to file a reply and fixed the matter for final disposal after two weeks.

Ramesh had claimed the amendment to the RTI Act violates the object of the parent statue, by altering the architecture of independence of Information Commissioners, and also infringed fundamental right to information guaranteed under the Constitution.

The plea, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, also contended that assuming the RTI Amendment Act merely delegated rule-making power to the Central government without thwarting the independence of Information Commissioners, “its accompanying RTI Rules complete the destruction of the independence of Information Commissioners”.

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2 gives power to the government to prescribe tenure, allowances and salary of Information Commissioners, and run contrary to the statement of objects and reasons (SOR) of the RTI Act, 2005, it said.

“The decision of the Central government is binding upon the Information Commissioners. This allows unbridled and uncanalised discretionary power to the Central Government that jeopardises the independence of Information Commissioners,” said Ramesh’s plea.

The plea cited Rule 22 of the amendment RTI Act, which empowers the Centre with the discretionary “power to relax” the applicability of the provisions of RTI Rules for any class or category of persons in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commission (SIC). This is an alarming concern about the government’s potential to invoke excessive powers to determine selective tenures, terms and conditions for different Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the time of appointment, as per its whims and fancies.

Citing Rule 23, the petition said: “Under this rule, the final interpreter of all the rules rests with the Central government. This grants the Central government excessive power over governing the salaries, allowances and service conditions of Information Commissioners.”