Parliament passes controversial RTI Amendment Bill

Parliament passes controversial RTI Amendment Bill

Representational image (RSTV/PTI Photo)

The Parliament on Thursday passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2019 with the Rajya Sabha clearing the contentious legislation after almost the entire opposition led by Congress staged a walkout.

The bill, which seeks to change the terms and conditions of the appointment of information commissioners in the states as well as the salary of central and state information commissioners, was passed by the Lok Sabha on July 22.

The passage in the Upper House was made possible after a motion to send the bill to a Select Committee for scrutiny by five opposition members - Derek O'Brien (TMC), Binoy Viswam (CPI), K K Ragesh (CPM), Elamaram Kareem (CPM) and M V Rajeev Gowda (Cong) - was defeated on the floor.

The opposition could muster only 75 votes while the treasury benches with support from the TRS and BJD secured 117 votes to register a convincing win.

As the votes were being counted (voting took place on paper ballot), the opposition members protested in the Well of the House against the provisions of the bill and after a few minutes walked out of the House. Subsequently, the bill was passed in a voice vote.

Earlier in the day, the Congress-led opposition locked horns with the government alleging that the RTI amendment bill would undermine the independence of the information commissioners. The bitter exchanges led to four adjournments in the post-lunch session.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the real reason for the government to amend the RTI Act was a “revenge” by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the disclosure in five cases which includes information related to demonetisation and Modi's educational qualifications.

The other three cases are related to the number of bogus ration cards, disclosure over the quantum of black money brought from abroad and submission of list of defaulters.

The details on each of these cases had come out in the public on the order of the Central Information Commissioner, said Ramesh.

In his response, Jitender Singh, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office assured the House that there would be no interference by the government on the autonomy of the functioning of the central and state information commissions.

But when Congress leader P Chidambaram asked Singh what was the rationale for the Centre to determine the terms and conditions of the appointment of the state information commissioners, the minister did not respond.

On the opposition charges of bills not being sent to the Parliamentary committees, Singh said between 2004-2009 (UPA-1), out of 180 bills as many as 124 bills were passed without any scrutiny by any committee. Similarly between 2009-2014 (UPA-2), out of 179 bills, 125 were passed without being sent to any committee.

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