Bill to end parity between ICs and ECs in Lok Sabha

Bill to end parity between ICs and ECs in Lok Sabha

Despite protest and walkout by the Congress and other Opposition parties, the government on Friday introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha that seeks to do away with the existing parity between Information Commissioners and Election Commissioners in terms of tenure and service conditions.

Despite protest and walkout by the Congress and other Opposition parties, the government on Friday introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha that seeks to do away with the existing parity between Information Commissioners and Election Commissioners in terms of tenure and service conditions.

Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh introduced the Right to Information (Amendment) bill 2019, after voting in the Lok Sabha.

The MPs of the Congress and almost all the Other opposition parties had walked out of the House before the voting took place. Nine MPs cast votes opposing the introduction of the bill while 224 voted in favour of it.

Adhir Chowdhury, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said that the Opposition party was opposed to the BJP-led government's move to curtail the freedom of the chief information commission and the Information Commission.

“It is not an RTI (Amendment) bill. It is an RTI Elimination Bill,” Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said, adding “This bill is removing the two greatest armours of institutional independence and on top of that, by controlling the state information commissioners, by taking over the power to determine their salaries, the Central government is destroying it.”

The existing Right to Information (RTI) Act provides that the salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioner and other information commissioners should be the same as that of the chief election commissioner and the election commissioners respectively.

The salaries and allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the chief election commissioner and election commissioner are equal to a Judge of the Supreme Court. Thus the chief information commissioner, information commissioner and the state chief information commissioner become equivalent to a judge of the Supreme Court.

Introducing the bill, Singh told the Lok Sabha that the functions being carried out by the Election Commission of India and the Central and State Information Commissions were “totally different”.

The Election Commission was a constitutional body while the Central information commission and state information commissions, on the other hand, were statutory bodies.

“Therefore,” the minister stated, “the mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.”

Sougata Roy of the TMC and Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM also opposed the introduction of the bill when Speaker Om Birla allowed them to speak briefly.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had first made a move to change the RTI Act last year, the civil society activists had strongly opposed it, saying that it would take away the freedom of the chief information commissioners and the information commissioners. The government had then decided against introducing the bill in Parliament.

But the move to change the RTI Act 2005 was revived recently after the Modi government won the parliamentary elections and a second term in office.