Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Opinion | Critics of RTI amendment crying foul without much justifiable reason

The amendment was introduced in the 17th Lok Sabha by the government in order to rectify certain anomalies in the Act

I am yet to meet an adult who has not heard the story of the boy who cried wolf. Of late, it has become rather difficult to see through a day without seeing someone crying wolf. The latest to join the bandwagon are my fellow brothers and sisters who have spoken out and criticised the Right to Information Amendment Bill, 2019, without much justifiable reason. Though it is the right of every citizen to question their government, it is equally important that we sift through the misinformation that is spread by obfuscation of facts. Criticism stops being fair when it is based on half- baked information and is being done just for the sake of it. While it may be fair to argue that we should confer constitutional status to the authorities constituted under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (“Act"), given that legitimate arguments can be forwarded by those in favour of the argument and those against, it is grossly unjust to say that the amendment destroys the federal structure due to the Centre’s power over state level authorities, or destroys the basic structure of the RTI mechanism, and gives unbridled right to the Centre to hire and fire authorities set up under the Act, or allows the Centre to control the authorities set up under the Act, as the same is devoid of any merit whatsoever.

The amendment that is being referred to was introduced in the 17th Lok Sabha by the government in order to rectify certain anomalies in the Act. The amendment is supposedly an enabling legislation, which aims to institutionalize and streamline the Act by neutralizing the anomaly in respect of the Act suggesting equivalence among the Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioner and State Chief Information Commissioner, with the judges of the Supreme Court. Though it is debatable as to whether there was any imminent need for the amendment to be introduced in light of there being no substantial problem (in public knowledge) in affording equal status to authorities constituted under the Act and constitutional authorities, the explanation provided by the government seems to be reasonable, too. Given that a decision made by the authorities constituted under the Act can be challenged in a high court, it is clear that as far as hierarchy is concerned, the authorities are placed at least two rung below what was suggested in the Act. Thus, by removing the semblance of equivalence by a mere technical change without tinkering with the substantive provisions of the Act, the Parliament has been able to streamline the Act among other things.

Given that the terms of service are to be prescribed by rules and the same cannot be varied to any officer’s disadvantage, it will be unfair to construe that the same can be used by the central government to wield influence on the authorities appointed under the Act. Notably, all appointments that would be made prior to the notification of the amended Act would be excluded from the scope of the amendment, and the terms of service as applicable before the amendment would continue to operate. As and when Parliament approves the rules and the same is notified, the terms of service as specified under the said rules will naturally be applicable to all authorities that have been appointed under the Act.

Navneet R. is a Supreme Court advocate.

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