One IC stands up to Modi Govt. on RTI

Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu

 One Information Commissioner, Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, has stood up to the government’s attempt to gain control of the RTI law and institution. Acharyulu is the same IC who in December 2016 had ruled on an RTI application that Delhi University must make public its 1978 BA degree records (in the PM Modi degree certificate RTI case). He had also ordered DU to make Smriti Irani’s degree certificate public, but DU has been fighting against having to release the records. The Modi degree matter is set to come up in court on August 23. Acharyulu has now written to his fellows Information Commissioners. Excerpts from his letter:  

I request honourable Commissioners to consider the following and request the CIC to send an official response to the Government of India asking for withdrawal of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which is reportedly deferred but not withdrawn.

…The RTI Act 2005 is a central legislation extending to entire nation… As per the Constitutional scheme of distribution of powers between the Centre and States, the Centre cannot make law for states on subject of access to records under the control of States. But Centre took shelter under the profound aim of effectuating fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) saying Right to Information is its intrinsic part…This Bill could be an affront to federal polity which is basic structure of the Constitution of India… If CEC that enforces a right under Article 324 (1) is Constitutional institution, how CIC that enforces a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) becomes a non-constitutional body?

…While the RTI Act of 2005 insulated Information Commissioners from political vagaries, the Bill of 2018 makes them subject to it. The Central Government will prescribe the term and salary of the Commissioners by issuing notifications from time to time. This means that the Government need not go to Parliament to amend RTI Act, but it can simply issue a notification either to reduce or increase the term of a particular batch of Commissioners and their salary. The Government at ‘x’ time can say the CIC will have three years of life, and for next batch of recruits prescribe two years only.  Fixed term plus higher rank and difficult process to remove makes the CIC independent. Uncertain term and salary changeable by executive notification reduces CIC to an obedient subordinate.

When Parliament makes law, as a larger democratic body it governs the field making it truly a people’s rule. Through Act of 2005, Parliament ensured certainty and continuity of CIC as a norm…With this Bill the executive attempts to usurp that power from the hands of Parliament.  Through this Bill the Centre wanted to grab the power of all state legislatures also, by asking Parliament to excessively delegate power to act for states, which it does not have. 

…For the above reasons I consider the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2018 attempts to dilute the independence of Central and State Information Commissioners besides giving undue powers to the Government of the day to appoint Commissioners with uncertain term, status and salary.  The Bill intends to defeat very purpose of RTI Act 2005 besides being an affront to federalism enshrined as basic feature of Indian Constitution…

…I propose that all of us should ask for its withdrawal.

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One IC stands up to Modi Govt. on RTI


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