MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, RAJYA SABHA
National Spokesperson and Head of IT Cell, BJD
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, as passed by Lok Sabha
SHRI AMAR PATNAIK (ODISHA): Sir, the Amendments which have been brought into the Act, as the earlier speakers said, I probably agree with Swapan Dasguptaji, appear very cosmetic. But the main provision regarding independence about which we are talking whether the terms of appointment can be changed after appointment of the Commissioner or the Information Commissioner, as the case may be, needs clarification. That is one clarification which the hon. Minister would have to give. If the terms of appointment are not changed after his appointment, then the debate on the question of independence is something that we have to revisit. The second point which has been raised and discussed in the House is, it is a creature of a statute, it is not a creature of the Constitution. There is no doubt about it. Now if it is a creature of the statute and if it is being made equivalent to a Constitutional Authority, which the Amendment tries to rectify, the Government will have to clarify if by doing this, it is trying to bring down the position of the Information Commissioners and the Chief Information Commissioners in the States because it is in 30 States where the RTI Act is being used, particularly, by the people belonging to the below poverty line families because they are the ones who are using this particular RTI for getting information to solve their problems of daily lives. Let me now talk about the CAG Act. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India is a creature of the Constitution. The CAG Act says that its salaries and conditions of service shall be determined by law by Parliament. So, the Constitution talks about the CAG. The salaries and conditions of service are to be determined by law for which there is a CAG (Conditions of Service) 1971 Act. Now, in this particular case, we have a statute establishing the RTI Act, and there is an amendment which says that there would be a rule which would be made by the Government, as a subordinate legislation, which would clarify the salaries, allowances and others terms and conditions of service of the Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners, the State Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners. Now, the Government would have to clarify if they are contemplating bringing out a rule, a subordinate piece of legislation, which would specify this for all the States and for the Government of India at one go, or if it would be changed by Executive Orders from time to time. Then, there is another point which I would like to get clarified by the Government. Sir, I would take just one minute more. The last point which I would like to make is this. Now, what is important in the RTI Act is getting the information. Are the exemptions that have been provided in the RTI Act being changed, or being manipulated? As you would have seen -- I too tend to agree with certain portions, having worked in bureaucracy -- there are people in the Government whose only job is to write RTI applications and impede governments. But there is also a group of people, the poor people, who have to write RTI applications to get benefits. So, the exemptions have to be rightly aligned. Now, I think that the amendments are fine, but the amendments to the RTI Act could have been much more broad-based in the sense that they could have looked at making the Act more effective and much more helpful in getting information after it is rejected by the Chief PIO. The appeal provision is very weak in the sense that there is no time-limit for an appeal provision.