NEW DELHI: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today accused the government of attempting to “erode or dilute” the landmark Right To Information law. The Narendra Modi government, she said, saw the law as “an obstacle to enforcing their majoritarian agenda”. The attack from the Congress chief came a week after the Centre curtailed the tenure of information commissioners from five to three years under the new RTI rules. Rights activists have called the move an assault on information commissioners and their independence and autonomy.
The new rules, Mrs Gandhi said, “diminish the office of the Information Commissioner in a manner that it leaves them at the mercy of the very government it is required to hold accountable”.
“Any official who allows the release of information against the Government can now be swiftly removed or simply not continued in office. This will have a chilling effect on all Information Commissioners- Central and State,” read her statement that was tweeted by the Congress this morning.
The government’s controversial amendment to the Right To Information Act cleared both houses of parliament in July.
The changes involved the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners at the states and centre. Information commissioners — who had five-year tenures – were to have “terms as may be prescribed by the central government”. Their salaries, instead of being on par with that of Election Commission officials, will be decided by the Central government.
The opposition has argued that authorising the government to take a call on the employment and pay scale of the RTI authorities will end up taking away their independence.
Sonia Gandhi said the earlier rules — 5-year tenure and fixed salaries — were framed to ensure the independence of information commissioners. “By reducing the benefits for these important posts, the Modi Government has ensured that no senior self-respecting official would agree to work under such monitored circumstances,” Mrs Gandhi said.
“These amendments will also ensure that no Information Commissioner shall be free from interference and signalling by the Modi Government. Above all, this will allow the Modi Government to appoint submissive officials, who don’t mind serving at the pleasure of the state and who will not allow questions the Government finds inconvenient to answer,” her statement read.
Earlier this month, Union Minister Amit Shah said the government’s objective is to proactively put out as much information as possible in the public domain and reduce the need for RTI applications.
“The government has made the administration’s work so transparent that there is minimum requirement to file RTI applications. The system should function in a way that we don’t need to file RTI applications,” he said.
“I have a request to the CIC, that you not only dispose of RTI applications but also inform people about the steps that have been taken to ensure that we do not need to file RTI applications,” the Home Minister said.