Lok Sabha Bill to Allow Centre to Fix Tenures of Information Commissioners
Lok Sabha (Photo Credits: PTI)

New Delhi, July 19:  A bill that proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of State and Central Information Commissioners was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday amid an uproar by the opposition.

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 also aims to remove the disparity in their wages with Election Commissioners. During the introduction of the Bill, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, Jitendra Singh spoke about his government's "commitment to transparency" and how it worked on the principle of minimum government and maximum governance. He insisted that the Bill would institutionalise, streamline and ensure the ease of delivery of the RTI Act.

As opposition members opposed the Bill, Singh also stated that the Centre has allowed the filing of RTI at any time of the day and has also allowed that the leader of the largest opposition party be allowed in the selection panel when there was no leader of opposition.

Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury termed the draft law a "threat to independence of Central Information Commissioner (CIC)".

"The bill is not being introduced according to the rules. The amendments to the legislation can prove to be dangerous to the fundamental rights of the citizens," Chowdhury said. He quoted a standing commission report that said that it will undermine and pressurise the Information Commission.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor charged that it was an "RTI elimination bill" as it sought to remove two of its vital powers. Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress demanded that the Bill be referred to a parliamentary standing committee. However, the idea was not acceptable to the government.

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi sought a division on the introduction of the Bill, which he termed a "threat to the constitution and parliament." However, the introduction sailed through with 224 members in support and nine against it.

The statement of objects and reasons of the Bill states that Section 13 of the RTI Act, 2005 provides for the "term of office and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners... that the Chief Information Commissioner and every Information Commissioner shall hold office for a term of five years or till they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier, and shall not be eligible for reappointment."

It "further provides that the salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissions shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner, respectively."

Similarly, it states that "Section 16 provides for the term of office and conditions of service of the State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners. It provides that the salaries and allowances and others terms and conditions of service of the State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners shall be the same as that of the Election Commissioner and the Chief Secretary of the State Government respectively."