NEW DELHI: Instead of strengthening the Right to Information Act the government has diluted it by bringing institutional autonomy under threat. Former Information Commission M.M.Ansari spoke to The Citizen on the recent RTI Amendment Bill passed by Parliament.

“The Central Government said that the RTI is not a constitutional right and Central Information Commission/ State Information Commission is not a constitutional body. However, the Supreme Court in many cases has held that RTI, like the right to vote, has its genesis in the right of expression under Article 19(1) (a). Right to Information is equally important. Also, whike the 2005 RTI Act says information is a ‘constitutional right’, the 2019 Bill now contradicts it,” Ansari pointed out.

“Instead of strengthening the RTI Act by proper implementation of proactive disclosure and greater transparency in appointment of commissioners, the government is amending the law in their appointments. Tenure and salaries of Information Commissioners were fixed by the law. But now the executive body of the state will decide their salaries and tenure. This is not a healthy sign. A statutory term of appointment gives job security,” he pointed out.

Ansari said that under the new amendments, “Information Commissioners have to serve according to the wish and terms of the government. The institutional autonomy will be under threat. Such amendments could make Information Commissioners compromise on sharing information with the RTI applicant just to keep their jobs.”

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always said that he believes in “Minimum government, Maximum governance”. Maximum governance happens through flow of information. When a government with such massive majority resorts to hiding of information and such amendments, it shows that the government is averse to transparency”, the former Information Commissioner said.

“Recently, I was asked to undertake an audit assessment by the current Chief Information Commissioner on compliance of RTI with provisions of proactive disclosures by public authorities. Only one-third of the public authorities responded to the survey sent to them and the analysis showed dismal implementation of section 4 of the RTI Act. Two-third of public authorities didn't even respond. Such assessments show the will to governance,” he added.

Parliament has just passed the Right to Information Amendment Bill 2019. The amendments introduced significant changes in the terms and conditions of appointments of the chief information commissioner (CIC) at the Centre and the information commissioners in the states as explained by Ansari above.