Former Chief Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu, who famously ordered the inspection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree, has urged Indian parliamentarians to reject the changes suggested by the central government in the existing Right to Information Act (RTI) Act. Acharyulu’s comments came after the Lok Sabha passed the amendments on Monday.
Terming the development ‘stab in the back,’ Acharyulu said that the changes in the RTI Act will make Information Commissioners spineless. “If the MPs approve this bill, ICs will become annexure or appendages of senior babus in state and central governments. I appeal to both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs to oppose it and see that it is rejected,” Acharyulu was quoted by news agency PTI.
Activist Aruna Roy too expressed her ‘grave concern’ over the proposed amendments to the RTI Act adding that the changes had been introduced in complete secrecy and ‘in flagrant violation of the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy of the Central government, which mandates public disclosure and consultation on draft legislation.’
The Right to Information Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha through voice vote has empowered the central government on deciding the terms of CICs and ICs at both the central and state levels. The proposed changes, if passed in the Rajya Sabha, will also allow the central government to have a say on the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service.
Information commissioners currently have a fixed tenure of five years or attaining the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. This provision makes it difficult for the government to remove the commissioner from office within this term. Activists say that this was to ensure the independence to ICs under the RTI Act so that they could function without interference from the government.
However, Acharyulu said that after the changes, the guarantee for the term and stature for five years will be removed.
Currently, a CIC’s salary is equivalent to that of Chief Election Commissioner, while Information Commissioner’s monthly remuneration is equivalent to that Election Commissioners. Salaries for ICs in states are equivalent to Chief Secretaries. After the changes, salaries and allowances of these officers will be decided by the central government.