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Central government grip on RTI structure

The stranglehold of the central government has been established on all 29 information commissions across the country

By Anita Joshua in NewDelhi

  • Published 26.10.19, 2:20 AM
  • Updated 26.10.19, 2:26 AM
The new rules mean the salaries of the information officials will not automatically go up when those of the poll commissioners are revised
The new rules mean the salaries of the information officials will not automatically go up when those of the poll commissioners are revised Shutterstock

The tenure of the information commissioners at the Centre and in the states has been reduced to three years just as transparency advocates and the Opposition have been fearing.

Before the changes were notified on Friday, the law had empowered chief and other information commissioners in the Central Information Commission and state information commissions to serve for five years or till they turn 65, whichever is earlier.

Besides, the Centre has assumed the “power to relax the provisions of any of these rules in respect of any class or category of persons”. This has stirred concerns that the government could potentially invoke these powers to determine different tenures for different commissioners, the Satark Nagrik Sangathan said in a statement.

The changes became apparent when the rules were notified on Friday to operationalise the amendments to the Right to Information law that were passed after the general election.

The new rules confirm the worst fears that were aired then. Venkatesh Nayak, head of the Access to Information Programme at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said the discretionary powers to decide on service conditions would make the central government the final arbiter on the interpretation of these rules.

“In other words, the autonomy of the information commission from governmental interference as was protected by the RTI Act passed by Parliament in 2005 has been consigned to the dustbin and the stranglehold of the central government has been established on all 29 information commissions across the country,” Nayak said.

As stated in the amendments, parity with the Election Commission architecture has been done away with. The salary of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Information Commissioner at the Centre are the same now (Rs 2.5 lakh a month) even under the new rules. The other information commissioners and the chief of the state commissions will get Rs 2.25 lakh a month.

But the Centre has specified and fixed the amount for the Chief Information Commission and others. The original law did not specify any amount but said the salaries should be on a par with those of the Chief Election Commissioner and the election commissioners.

The new rules mean the salaries of the information officials will not automatically go up when those of the poll commissioners are revised. The power to revise the salaries lies with the Centre, unlike in the case of the election watchdog whose pay is linked to that of Supreme Court judges that is decided by Parliament.

The parliamentary standing committee which had examined the original draft of the bill in 2004 had recommended parity for the RTI architecture with the Election Commission to ensure that it functions with utmost independence and autonomy, and is not subjected to the machinations of the government of the day.

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