New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), on Tuesday issued a statement against the BJP-led government’s passing of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha.
“This law, prepared after widespread consultations and passed unanimously by Parliament, now stands on the brink of extinction,” she said.
The Bill, passed with a voice vote, seeks to empower the central government on deciding the terms of chief information commissioners and information commissioners at both the central and state levels. It also allows the Centre to decide their salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service.
After the Amendment Bill was passed in the Lower House, the Opposition closed in on the Centre with heavy criticism. They alleged that the Bill has been brought to undermine the law and the transparency panel.
Amid the rising tide against this move, the former UPA chairperson’s statement comes as a resolute action to protect a historic Act introduced during the Congress regime. She said the RTI Act has helped “usher in a new culture of transparency and accountability administration at all levels”.
“The foundations of our democracy have, as a result, been strengthened immeasurably. The weaker sections of society have benefitted greatly by the proactive use of RTI by activists and others,” noted Sonia.
In the course of Parliament session, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had lead the oppositions charge during the debate on the Bill. He had raised the concern that under the proposed changes the government can hire and fire independent information commissioners.
"It is not Amendment bill but elimination bill," he said.
He questioned why the Bill has been brought "without any public consultation".
"Why is the government desperate to rush through the bill? Is it because the Central Information Commission (CIC) delivered an order on the Prime Minister's educational detail," Tharoor asked.
The CPP chairperson echoed a similar concern in her letter. Questioning the government’s intentions, she said that the Bill would destroy the independence of the CIC.
“It is clear that the present Central government sees the RTI Act as a nuisance and wants to destroy the status and independence of the Central Information Commission which was put on par with the Central Election Commission and the Central Vigilance Commission,” she said.
Sonia added that the Centre’s misuse of “legislative majority to achieve its aims” would disempower citizens of the country.
However, Jitendra Singh, Union minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, told the House while defending the Bill that their aim is to provide maximum transparency in public – such that one that does need an Act like RTI.
“There is a provision that suo-motu you should provide maximum information in public domain so that the number and the need for RTIs reduces. In five years, we have made changes so that things are uploaded faster on websites," he said.