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The recent proposed amendment to the RTI Act of the country is a significant move by the government that has shaken the pillars of transparency and autonomy in the country. The RTI amendment bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha given the majority of the members in the house. The bill has also been passed by the Rajya Sabha despite the walkout phased by the opposition.
Evolution of RTI in India
The RTI act was evolved through difficult times however the resolve for transparency proved its mettle when the bill was passed in 2005. The first mention of the bill was brought by the Morarji Desai government in 1977 which promised an open government. The committee set up for this work could not brig changes to the system. In 1986 through Mr. Kulwal vs Jaipur Municipal Corporation the Supreme Court gave its directive on the inclusion of Right to Information as a part of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression which cannot exist independently of each other. The work continued with the 1989 government. In 1994 the Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan in Rajasthan began protesting for the right which they eventually got in 2000 for the state of Rajasthan. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information in 1996 was founded to get the act passed for the entire nation. The Freedom of Information Bill was passed in the parliament in 2000 and received the Presidential assent in 2003. The bill which was sought only for government bodies after protests was expanded to citizens and passed as the Right to Information Act in 2005. It proved the number of years required to bring about a positive change is long and comes with struggle and protests. The current government seem to dislodge this long earned freedom through its amendment that could prove detrimental to the bill.
The Amendment Bill
The reforms that are being proposed through this bill include control by the government over the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner. The salary and the tenure of the Commissioners are to be determined by the government. This makes it problematic to the extent that the committee will be controlled by the government. The appointment and salary being fixed by the government makes it a debatable question whether the transparency can be ensured in the body. It would give the government an opportunity to favour those who support the ruling party ideas. The tenure being in their control would also mean that even an independent person will be fearful of acting impartiality, fearing consequences from the government. This bill marks a harbinger for the disappearing transparency in India. the government may give all the reasons possible for this amendment but not all that is spoken is felt. The reasons being given that this body being statutory cannot be equated to a constitutional body like the Election Commission and the rules that apply to them. This prima facie appears a frivolous argument and cannot be accepted given the revolution the RTI era has brought in India. In a country that has gone through times of scams and misused official powers, one cannot reasonably be expected to give heed to these arguments. Where even today a citizen has to stand in queues and wait for months for the information they want, it would be atrocious to have puppets appointed in the place leading to a worse situation. What is expected is to make the Commission more transparent and agile in its response. The government is paving the way for it to be slack and dark in the light of this amendment. The point of worry is the fact of changed majority in the Rajya Sabha. Earlier with the NDA not having majority the house of elders would have a say in preventing atrocious bills thereby forcing the Lower House to reconsider its decision. With the NDA having clear majority in the Lok Sabha the bill has without any ryder been cleared by the elders of our country.
While India has evolved over other nations like Israel which though being advanced does not give their citizens due right to information we need to move further where countries like the UK and USA are placed. They have a system where they give autonomy to the Information body. We too were among those countries however with this amendment the country has been pushed to a level where the freedom looks like a mirage in the midst of controversies. People want to drink the water of freedom yet when they reach it practically does not exist.
A body as important as the Information Commission cannot be controlled by the representatives elected by the ruling party. It questions the federal autonomy of the body. The public sentiment is being put at stake here considering the legacy that the government has not been on healthy terms with the autonomous views particularly. The examples of the RBI governors marking their exit abruptly is a sign of this. While there may be a desire to control all aspects of citizens, what must be kept in mind is that the people and their sentiments are the foremost in any democracy. They need to be kept alive and the faith must be maintained. It has been rightly said that the right to know is the right to live. With the country paving way to be a Constitution and people respecting democracy, it is necessary for it to realise that the bill will only hinder the growth of the nation. It is beneficial to the democracy sooner the drafters realise the importance of the autonomy of the institution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nishtha Nikhil Gupta is a 2nd year student at the NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad. She is interested in criminal and constitutional law.
In Content Picture Credit: Economic Times