Govt didn't consult CIC on RTI amendments

Representative image.

The government did not consult the Central Information Commission (CIC) when it brought out the new amendments and rules to the RTI Act, that curtailed the tenure of information commissioners in central and state information commissions to three years from five years, according to RTI responses.

This was disclosed in RTI responses provided to prominent transparency activist Anjali Bharadwaj, who said the "surreptitious manner" in which the amendments were brought and the rules promulgated "constitutes a violation" of the pre-legislative consultation policy of 2014 which requires that all draft rules be placed in the public domain for comments of people.

Also, she said, Section 4(1)(c) of the RTI Act puts an obligation on the government to publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public.

In separate RTI pleas, Bharadwaj asked the government to provide her with the government's letter seeking CIC's response and the report sent by the CIC on both the Amendment Act and rules which were formulated later.

To the question on rules, the CIC responded that "no comments were sought or provided by the CIC". On whether its comments were sought on amendments, the CIC said, "no record of the information is available."

After passing the RTI Amendment Bill in July, the government had in October notified the rules which curtailed the tenure of information commissioners in central and state information commissions to three years from five years, which the activists had described as an "assault on their independence and autonomy" and reducing it to "caged parrots".

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 the 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 lakh each.

Bharadwaj had then said that 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.

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