The central government has confirmed that it will be amending the Right to Information (RTI) Act, but one government agency has refused to state what changes are coming.
Anjali Bhardwaj filed an RTI seeking clarity on the changes from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) but did not get a clear answer. The reply said: "The matter regarding amendment in the RTI Act, 2005 is under consideration and has not reached finality. As per section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005, information requested by you cannot be supplied at this stage."
Bharadwaj, who is a co-convenor of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), got wind of the proposal to bring an amendment into the RTI Act through media reports and filed an RTI application.
Among other things, Anjali asked the date on which the decision was taken, the date on which the DoPT forwarded the proposal to the Centre, and the date on which the cabinet has taken a decision. She also asked for a copy of the proposal prepared by the DoPT and a copy of the decision taken by the cabinet.
The government is not wanting to make the amendment public at all. Unfortunately, we are finding that any amendment or laws that they are bringing in, there is no pre-legislative consultation on these. Even in the case of the Whistleblower's Protection Amendment Bill, they didn't put anything in the public." Bhardwaj told IANS.
Bhardwaj said there was a clause in the RTI Act Section 8(1)(i), which says that cabinet papers cannot be given under the RTI. She, however, argued that she asked for the DoPT proposal and the date rather than the paper, but has still been denied. She called the move illegal, saying that dates cannot be covered under Section 8(1)(i).
Under the RTI Act, 2005 any citizen can file for information on select public institutions. The government also introduced the Pre-legislative Consultation Policy (PLCP) of 2014, where it puts out all legislation and policy changes in the public domain for a month for consultation.
Expressing concern over the media reports that the amendment the government was planning to bring was regressive, Bhardwaj said: "What is worrisome is they are planning to reduce the stature of the Information Commissioners and weaken the Information Commissions in the country.
"At the moment, the salaries and allowances of the Commissioners are same as that of an SC judge. But, now the government will have the discretion to decide their salaries. That is very dangerous. It erodes the independence of the Commission.
"There is a powerful law in place. There is no need to make changes. What the government should instead do is appoint Information Commissioners. At the CIC, there are four vacancies and four more to come this year including the Chief Information Commissioner who is retiring. Why is the government trying to tinker with the law and amend the law and dilute it?" she added.
[With inputs from IANS]