Govt notifies RTI rules; CIC tenure cut to 3 yrs

The Centre had amended the Right to Information Act, 2005 in July ending the parity enjoyed by Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners with Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners on terms and conditions of their service and tenure.

The Government has curtailed the tenure of information commissioners in central and state information commissions to three years from five years bringing changes to the RTI rules with activists describing the move as an "assault on their independence and autonomy" and reducing it to "caged parrots".

The notification issued on Thursday late night also gives the government discretion to decide on allowances or service conditions not specifically covered by the 2019 Rules, which would be "binding" while allowing it to keep powers to relax any rules.

The rules were notified soon after the government announced The RTI Amendment Act, 2019 has come into effect on Thursday. The amendments had ended the parity enjoyed by Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners with Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners on terms and conditions of their service and tenure.

The salary of central Chief Information Commissioner has been fixed at Rs 2.50 lakh while that of Information Commissioners has been fixed at Rs 2.25 lakh. The State Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners will get Rs 2.25 lak each.

According to Satark Nagrik Sangathan's Anjali Bharadwaj, the provision to relax any rules could enable the government to potentially invoke these powers to determine different tenures for different commissioners at the time of appointment.

"The rules made by the central government have done away with the protection of stature of commissioners...The removal of the provision guaranteeing equivalence to other posts (Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commissioners, Chief Secretaries) means that salaries of information commissioners will be revised only if the central government decides to revise the rules," she said.

"These rules will effectively make information commissions function like ‘caged parrots’. Commissioners will potentially be wary of giving directions to disclose information that the central government does not wish to provide," she said.

Another RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said the new RTI Rules will create a "big mess in the short term" in all Information Commissions and in the medium term enable the government to "act arbitrarily" while deciding on salaries, allowances and tenures of Information Commissioners.

"As the parity between the Information Commissions and the Election Commission of India has been downgraded to babu-level, it is highly unlikely that in a situation where the rule of law is not a very strongly embedded value in the bureaucracy, that senior babus in the administration will ever be hauled up before the Information Commissions for not complying with the provisions of the RTI Act," he said. 

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