Since its passage in 2005, the RTI has been enthusiastically used by citizens. By one estimate, nearly six million citizens use the RTI annually. And this may come as a surprise to many readers, but governments respond to applications.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)
In passing the amendments to Right to Information Act (RTI), Parliament has risked undermining one of the central institutional pillars of our democracy: The information commission, both at the Centre and the state. This comes at time when the institutional foundations of India’s democracy — from the Election Commission (EC) to the Supreme Court and the National Statistical Commission — are facing a severe crisis of credibility.
In recent years, even the most sacred of institutions, like the EC, have been accused of blatant partisanship. The information commissions have thus far remained insulated from this charge, passing orders that have, on occasion, made the Narendra Modi government uncomfortable. But in pushing these amendments, both Houses (the Lok Sabha passed the amendments on Monday; the Rajya Sabha on Thursday) have now made information commissions vulnerable. This is a worrying development that must be resisted now with the only tool available: Greater public scrutiny.
At first glance, the amendments appear benign. They deal with matters pertaining to tenure, allowances, and the terms of service of information commissioners. These were articulated in the Act, which mandates fixed five-year terms, and accords appropriate status to the commissioners by equating their salaries with that of election commissioners at the state and central level. The amendment removes these provisions, and empowers the Centre to take these decisions.