The government’s move to amend the Right to Information Act has invited sharp criticism from the RTI activists. The centre has proposed to make amendments in the Data Protection Bill as per the recommendations of Justice Shrikrishna Committee. It seeks to make Section 8 (1)(j) which permits certain types of information to be exempted from disclosure. It will include, “information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.” If amendments are made in the RTI Act, it will give leeway to the corrupt government officials to evade public scrutiny.
According to former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, the proposed amendments in the RTI Act will render it toothless and ineffective. He said, “There are two sets of proposed amendments to bring a change in the RTI Act — one of them by the government about reducing the salaries of the commissioners and the other is proposed by the Data Protection Bill in which they want to change one of the exemptions of the RTI Act making it almost an act for denial of information.”
“The erstwhile government too made three efforts to amend the law which was resisted. Nobody in the power likes the power of RTI while those who are not in power feel empowered with it. This existing RTI Act has done no damage so far; why does everyone want to change it to weaken our democracy? We want an assurance that government will not touch the RTI Act if they want our votes,” he added.
The main objective behind passing this law is that democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information is required for its functioning. The RTI activists have already organised protests in Delhi, Patna, and Bhubaneshwar against the government’s move to amend the RTI Act. They also alleged that the government had kept the proposed amendments in the RTI Act confidential and has not consulted the Central Information Commission. The RTI activists are working on a campaign to get political representatives and parties to commit that they will not back any amendments to the RTI Act for at least another decade. They termed the proposed amendments against the federal structure of the nation.
Social Activist Dr. Kumar Saptarshi said, “There is a lack of productivity in the government jobs. Bureaucrats don’t clear files and keep them pending. The RTI Act is being misused. The government is fascist and they diluted the RTI Act and might even abolish it in future. It is unfortunate that there are a lesser number of RTI activists in our country. The government lacks transparency and they are yet to fill the vacancies in the RTI department. The RTI activists also have started indulging in blackmailing activities.”
“In 2002, I along with Anna Hazare started a movement against corruption and implementation of the RTI Act as the bureaucrats were under the impression that nobody can question them. So to curb this menace RTI Act was enacted,” he added.
The Justice Srikrishna Committee has proposed to amend section 8 of the RTI Act which permits certain types of information to be exempted from disclosure. The proposed amendments also give the government power to determine tenure and salary of Information Commissioners. Currently, the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners tenure in office is fixed for five years. However, the proposed amendments give powers to the government to fix their tenure of service. Even changes are being proposed to reduce the tenure of State Information Commissioner. The amendments also give the power to fix the salary and allowances drawn by the Central Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioner.
BJP spokesperson Shirish Boralkar said, “Since I have not read about the government’s proposal to amend the RTI Act, hence, I lack awareness about this issue. The government might have taken into the pros and cons of the act before amending it. A discussion in this regard will be held in the legislative assembly. The government can’t provide information to the citizens without evidence.”
Why is the government trying to intervene in the functioning of the Information Commission? Is the government attempting to end its autonomy? Ever since the Modi government had come to power, it has been intervening with the functioning of various institutions. The government had scrapped the Planning Commission and replaced it with NITI Aayog. The government is also planning to scrap the University Grants Commission (UGC) with Higher Education Commission of India (HEIC).