THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2019

Author: Sakshi Jain, 1st year, LL.B, Jitendra Chauhan College of Law, Mumbai. This article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us. Introduction Right to Information Act was enforced in the year 2005 in India. Right to Information Act means that any citizen of India if requests any information (which qualifies to be in the public knowledge) from departments of state and central government then it is been mandated by the act that the request of information to departments shall be fulfilled in a timely manner. A period of 30 days from the date of receiving such an application is the period within which the authority is liable to respond to such a request. It is the right of citizens of India to ask for information but they cannot ask information which relates to national security, defense or any personal details. To apply for RTI (Right to Information) the process is very simple and it can be done offline or online. This act helps Indian Citizens to get answers from government authority. They can apply for information such as delaying their driving license, passport or IT Refunds. They can also ask for information related to a structure built or repaired which is under the authority of the government. Copies of answer sheets from the universities can be provided to students under this Act. This Act has been amended in the year 2019 where many were against the Amendment bill and many were supportive for the bill to be enforced. As the Act was made in a hurry there were loopholes which were to be filled and therefore a bill was put forward by the government. The Bill was passed and the amendment was made in 2019. History of Right To Information In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted where the right to information gained its prominence. Everyone should have the right to freedom of expression and impart information of all kinds and this was stated by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966. In 1986, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in Mr. Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal Corporation[1]. and through this the genesis of RTI law started. Right to Information has been clearly implied in the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, as stated by the apex court in Mr. Kulwal v. Jaipur Municipal Corporation. The Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted after the parliament viewed that it was the right of the individual to get information by the government. There was an amendment bill presented in 2019 where the bill was passed by both the houses of the parliament to which the President’s assent was received. Importance of Right To Information Act Right to Information Act is an important act especially for the citizens of India as they get informed about what they need to know and transparency is created between the people and the government authority. It also ensures accountability of the government authority. The Act is also important because it enhances participation of people in the democratic process. It plays a significant role as it strengthens participatory democracy. People-centered governance is ensured. This Act made the government officials to divert their attitudes and duty from being the secretive one to that of shareness and openness. This Act also empowered the commission where they could find the officials who did not follow the mandate and to make them accountable for it. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, the government offices need to provide information as this Act empowers the Information Commission to be the highest authority in the country.[2] Due to the Right To Information Act, the public gets access to government’s records and they can also analyze and scrutinize what the government does. Challenges faced by the Act ⮚ Due to illiteracy and lack of awareness, the full potential of Right to Information Act is not seen in India. ⮚ The authorities are harassed as individuals misuse the provisions often. People keep asking for voluminous and useless information that is difficult to obtain. ⮚ It is also used against public authorities as a vindictive tool. Changes made in Right to Information Act The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by president’s assent which had the following amendments passed, Tenure: According to the Right to Information, 2005 the term for office was 5 years for the Chief Information Commissioner[3]. In the act which has been amended removes this provision and according to the new amendment made, now the Union Government will notify the term for Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. Salary: According to the Right to Information, 2005, the salary that is being paid to the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners will be the same for Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners respectively. These provisions are now removed by the amended Act and now it states that allowances, salaries and other terms and conditions of service of state and central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner would be determined by the Central government. Deduction in Salary: The 2019 amended act removed the provisions where it was provided in the Right to Information, 2005 that if at the time of appointment Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner are receiving retirement benefits or pensions for previous government services then their salary would be reduced by the amount equal to the pension. Argument for the Amended Bill It has been claimed by the critics that after amending the Act it could help the government block Right to Information queries which are uncomfortable. The Government claimed that the bill was committed to autonomy and transparency of institutions. The bill has been amended with a view to make the Act result-oriented and institutionalize it to strengthen the Act. In 2005, Right to Information was made in a little hurry and so whatever was lacking has to be added and rectified. There were some technical faults in the Act wherein if the chief information commissioner is equivalent to Supreme Court Judge and can be challenged in High Court is not acceptable as the powers are equivalent to that of a Supreme Court Judge. The Election Commission is a constitutional body whereas the Central Information Commission and State Information Commission are Statutory Bodies. Their body of framework is totally different. If both are different then there is no need of comparing both as their basis are different. Arguments against the Amended Bill This move will not just reduce the status of Information Commissioners which until now was equivalent to Supreme Court Judge or an Election Commissioner, but also undermines their independence. With a reduced stature, the Information Commissioner will be submissive to Chief Ministers and Prime Minister, thus depriving citizens of their right to information. It is widely accepted around the world that one of the most important structural elements of any independent oversight institution such as the CVC, The Election Commission, The Lokpal, Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) is a basic guarantee of tenure and a fixed salary. There is a strong nexus between the independence of an institution and the fixity of tenure and stable income of those who are appointed to it. The Supreme Court of India agrees in Union of India v. R. Gandhi President Madras Bar Association that it recognizes fixed tenures and Stable Salaries as essential aspects of institutional independence. Conclusion The Right to Information has been called a revolutionary step that empowered citizens seeking improved transference in governance. It has been 15 years since the Act has come into force wherein till date there have been over 3.02 crore RTI (Right to Information) applications filled with the state and central government. This shows that it has gained tremendous importance and is a tool being used by the citizens of India. This Act is implanted to ensure transparency, social justice and to make government authorities accountable and responsible for their actions. However, there are various drawbacks and limitations. To overcome these, measures are to be taken so that the Act makes its basis strong and strengthens itself as it plays a vital role in Indian Democracy. Reference [1]Right to Information (RTI) Act : Issues, Challenges, Amendment, https://www.iasexpress.net/rti-amendment-bill-2018-upsc-ias/ [2]Right to Information (RTI) Act : Issues, Challenges, Amendment, https://www.iasexpress.net/rti-amendment-bill-2018-upsc-ias/

[3] Right to Information (RTI) Act : Issues, Challenges, Amendment, https://www.iasexpress.net/rti-amendment-bill-2018-upsc-ias/

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One Thought to “THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2019”

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