New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is considering changes to the Right to Information (RTI) Act to keep the chief justice of the Supreme Court out of its ambit, prompting protests against the move by those who see it as a dilution of the law.
“The proposal includes...safeguarding the sensitivity of the office of the chief justice of India,” Prithviraj Chavan, outgoing minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, said in a written reply to a question on proposed amendments to the RTI Act. He said no time frame has been set for amending the law and that it was not possible to indicate the changes that would finally be incorporated as they are yet to be discussed with stakeholders.
The RTI Act, which empowers citizens to demand information from the government and obliges officials to provide it, came into effect in 2005 and has allowed citizens to uncover corrupt practices and ensure state benefits reach their intended target instead of getting siphoned off.
“If at all, the judiciary needs greater transparency and not protection,” said Nikhil Dey, a social activist who has been associated with the RTI Act. “If the government does go ahead with this, we will strongly oppose it because we feel its retrograde.”
The government’s latest re-iteration of the proposed amendment assumes significance as it was made in the Lok Sabha, which, experts say, indicates some concrete steps in this direction. “While the government has been talking about it, this could be the first time it has actually brought forward this proposal in Parliament,” said RTI activist Manish Sisodia.
Sisodia said any such move needed to be resisted. “The judiciary is something which, in a way, controls the government. Thus, the government thinks the judiciary should be appeased.”
In January, the Delhi high court had ruled that the office of the Supreme Court chief justice was covered by the RTI law.
While current Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia is yet to take a stand on the issue, his predecessor K.G. Balakrishnan had consistently maintained that the office did not come under the purview of the Act and that related information, including the assets of Supreme Court judges, cannot be made public under it.
“The fact that the statement was made in Parliament makes it significant because it indicates that there are proposals in front of the government to make amendments,” said former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah. “It does not mean that it is sanctioned. It was earlier decided that the decision to make any amendment will happen in the public domain.”