I am appealing you to not to sign the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019. I beseech you to send it back to the Parliament for reconsideration. This is a cherished right which has been codified by the RTI Act 2005. It has been rated amongst the best transparency laws in the world.
Citizens have begun using this to monitor their government and get accountability from it. The default position of the law is that all information with government belongs to the citizens since it is ‘rule of the people, for the people and by the people’. The only information which is exempted as per Section 8 and 9 of the Act cannot be disclosed.
Whenever the government does not disclose any information, which is not exempted, citizens may approach the Information Commission. This places the responsibility on the Commissions which are creation of the RTI Act to adjudicate fairly to safeguard the right of the citizen. The final appellate authority is the Information Commission. It is necessary for them to be independent of government to discharge their duty fairly. The RTI Bill first presented to Parliament in December 2004 proposed that the Chief Commissioner be equated with Secretary to Government and other Commissioners be equated to Joint Secretaries.
This bill was sent to the Parliamentary Committee which discussed it in six meetings. With respect to the terms of offices and powers and functions of Commissioners, it proposed that “This is the essence of the Bill in the sense that the mechanism of access to information will depend on the effectiveness of this system. It should, therefore, be ensured that the Commission and its functionaries perform their duties independently and with complete autonomy. For this, it is necessary to elevate their status to that of the Election Commission of India.”
You will recall this clearly since you were an important member of the committee and had made a significant contribution to its working. The present amendment proposed seeks to reverse only this part of the law in a very hurried manner. No plausible reasons are being given for reversing this well thought out wisdom and foresight shown by the Committee.
To defend the citizen’s fundamental right, I plead with you to draw the attention of parliament to this and return the amendment bill for reconsideration.
Shailesh Gandhi is Right to Information activist and Former Central Information Commissioner
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