The RTI Act of 2005 has been nothing short of a breakthrough in the Indian socio-political scenario. The regulation enables any citizen to seek information from any public body. A whopping 9.76 lac applications were received in 2015-16 alone as per a 2017 media report.
While the high rejection rates still plague the system and are indicative of a greater need for transparency in the RTI request disposal format, new developments building on the 2018 initiatives have also sprung up on the horizon. A new bill to amend the RTI Act was introduced on July 19, 2019 in the Lok Sabha.
The Proposed Amendments
The bill proposes to modify the office terms and service conditions of the CIC (Chief Information Commissioner) and the IC (Information Commissioner) at both the state and the central levels, bringing them under the umbrella of the central government.
To go deeper into the proposed amendments, the tenure of the CIC and IC at present is 5 years or until the officer attains the age of 65 years. However, the bill seeks to change this as per the discretion of the Central government. Secondly, it is also proposed to change the allowances as well as the salaries on the prescription of the Central government in contrast to the current structure which mimics the pay scheme of the Election Commission of India.
Reactions to the RTI Bill
The RTI amendment is being brought in with the reason that the functions of the Information Commissions and the Election Commission of India are fundamentally different. Those in favor of the bill have indicated that the move will help implement the act in an easier way.
On the other end of the spectrum, the proposed amendments have been criticized by RTI activists and Information Commissioners themselves who have expressed concerns over the dilution of the transparency in the system should the RTI bill be passed. There have been discussions around the possible interference this amendment would cause in the seamless execution of the ICs.
The Way Ahead
The Indian RTI Act has been considered by some to be one of its kind the world over though we have a long way to go in terms of ensuring its proper implementation. Will the RTI Bill be passed and what will be the implications on the IC machinery? Only time will tell.