Even though 15 political parties, reportedly, signed a motion in the Rajya Sabha, to have the bill referred to a select committee, many back-tracked on their demand during the voting, fuelling apprehensions about the pressure that was exerted by the ruling dispensation.
The RTI Amendment Bill, 2019, which was passed by the Parliament on July 25, 2019 and received the President’s assent on August 1, 2019, strikes at the heart of the Right to Information Act by weakening the institution of the Information Commissions.
The amendment empowers the Central government to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of the Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of the State Information Commissions. This is aimed at undermining the independence of the Information Commissions, thereby diluting India’s strongest and most widely used law for transparency.
From the time it became known that the bill has been introduced in the LokSabha in 2019, protests were held across the country and signatures petitions were started to oppose the amendments. Read NCPRI’spress statement issued on July 19. On July 22, the day that the Amendment Bill was taken up in the LokSabha, a protest march was taken out in Delhi. It was attended by hundreds of people and slogans like RTI Bachao, LoktantraBachao were raised. It ended at the Constitution Club, where a Jan Manch was held. People rejected the government’s attempt to dilute the RTI Act, which came after a long struggle and has empowered common citizens to demand accountability from the government.
Leaders of several opposition parties, including the Congress, CPI, RJD and AAP, also spoke at the Jan Manch. Terming the amendments to the RTI Act as ‘anti-people’ (janatavirodhi), the parties pledged support to save the RTI Act. Click here to see photos of theprotestandJan Manch. Read amedia report.
In the face of opposition from the parties and the civil society, the BJP put out a ‘fact-sheet’ titled, “RTI Amendment Bill 2019 – Don’t fall for fear mongering”, on why the RTI Amendment Bill was important. However, the fact-sheet was aimed at misleading and misinforming people. An article pointing out the problems with the fact-sheet can be accessed here.
On July 24, 2019, former Chiefs and Information Commissioners of the CIC addressed a press conference to explain how the amendment adversely impact the Information Commissions. The full vide of the press conference can be viewed here.
The manner in which the RTI Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed has raised serious concerns. It was surreptitiously introduced by the government in the Lok Sabha on July 22, 2019. Even though many parties, including the INC, the left parties, TMC, AIMM, RSP, BSP opposed the bill and demanded that it be referred to a Standing Committee to enable detailed deliberations, the government used its brute majority to ride roughshod over their objections and pass it through.
On July 25, 2019, the bill was taken up by the Rajya Sabha. Once again, many MPs strongly opposed the RTI Amendment Bill, and protests were held in Delhi and various other states including Odisha, MP, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Maharashtra. See videos of speeches-by A.M. Singhvi,Manoj Jha, Jairam Ramesh,Derek O’brien.
Even though 15 political parties, reportedly, signed a motion in the Rajya Sabha, to have the bill referred to a select committee, many back-tracked on their demand during the voting, fuelling apprehensions about the pressure that was exerted by the ruling dispensation. One BJP leader was seen holding multiple ballots during the voting on the motion to send the amendment bill to a select committee and opposition leaders raised the issue of the BJP trying tomanipulate the voting. After the motion was defeated, the opposition staged a walk-out out due to the manner in which the voting took place but the NDA government pushed it through
Following the passage of the bill, the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) and other groups and citizens launched a campaign to petition the President to not sign the bill. On July 29, 30 and 31, 2019, protests were held across Delhi and other states, along with signature campaigns. More than 2 lakh emails, postcards, petitions were sent to the President asking him to not sign the bill. Read one of the petitions here..
On August 1, 2019, when people went to the RashtrapatiBhawan to hand over a petition to the President, they were detained by the Police for several hours. Watchvideoand readmedia report.Around 11 pm, news came that the President had given assent to the bill.
Though the RTI law has suffered a serious setback, for the millions who have experienced the effectiveness of the law in holding the government to account, theamendments are unlikely to be a deterrent. People will continue to use the transparency law to exercise their fundamental right to know.
The NCPRI has now launched the Use RTI to Save RTI campaign to encourage people to use the RTI Act as law in even greater numbers. Read NCPRI press release.
Read RTFC statement on RTI amendments
Read NFIW statement on RTI amendments