Activists plan an indefinite protest at Jantar Mantar against the Centre’s decision to amend the RTI Act.



New Delhi: Right to Information (RTI) activists are planning to hold an indefinite protest at Jantar Mantar, starting Monday, against the Centre’s decision to amend the RTI Act. According to them, the move is a “direct attack on the autonomy of information commissions and people’s fundamental right to know”. These activists will approach President Ram Nath Kovind for his intervention, requesting him not to sign the Bill.

The RTI Amendment Bill 2019, which was passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha this week, proposes to empower the Centre with the right to determine the term, salaries and other terms and conditions of service of the chief information commissioners and information commissioners and the state chief information commissioner and the state information commissioners.  Amrita Johri of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, under whose banner RTI activists are protesting the move, said the protest would continue “till we get a positive assurance from the President”. In fact, seven former information commissioners of the Central Information Commission (CIC) have come out in the open and condemned the government move. They are Wajahat Habibullah, Deepak Sandhu (both former chief information commissioners), Shailesh Gandhi, Sridhar Acharyulu, M.M. Ansari, Yashovardhan Azad and Annapurna Dixit (former information commissioners).

Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, alleged that there have been consistent efforts to undermine the institution of information commissions. “The government has not appointed a single commissioner, unless the courts intervened in the last five years,” she said, adding: “Protests are being held across the country to oppose the amendments, which would fundamentally dilute peoples’ right to know.”

According to Shailesh Gandhi, the government has not given any concrete reason for the amendments. Countering the claim of the government that the RTI Act was drafted hurriedly and, therefore, there were anomalies in it, he said that the RTI Act, before being passed in 2005, was referred to a Standing Committee which examined all the provisions at length and recommended that in order to ensure autonomy of information commissions, the commissioners should be given a status equivalent to election commissioners. He pointed out that several MPs of the BJP had been a member of the standing committee, including Ram Nath Kovind, who is now the President.

Activists say that the RTI Act has been functioning for 14 years without any problem regarding the tenure and status of information commissioners and the amendment bill is an attempt by the government to control their tenure and salary. Another RTI activist said: “In most cases decided by the commission, the respondent is the government and in order to ensure that commissions can function independently, their autonomy must be protected.”  He highlighted the fact that the government discontinued the “Janane ka Haq”, a show on the RTI Act, broadcast on DD News.