The Right to Information (RTI) Act of India was passed in 2005 after a broad based movement for a transparency law. The RTI Act guarantees citizens the right to access information from all branches of the government – executive, legislature and judiciary. It is one of the most powerful right to information laws in the world.
The Supreme Court of India has held the right to information to be a fundamental right, derived from the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It has also ruled that the right flows from and is enshrined in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Millions of RTI applications are filed every year in India. People are using the Act extensively on a range of issues – from holding the government accountable for delivery of basic rights and entitlements to questioning the highest offices of the country.
The RTI Act is one of the most empowering legislations for the citizens of this country. It has initiated the vital task of redistributing power in a democratic framework.
Amendments made to the RTI Act in 2019
The RTI Amendment Bill, 2019 was passed by Parliament in July 2019 and received the President’s assent on August 1, 2019, thereby becoming an Act.
The amendment empowers the Central government to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and also of State Information Commissions. This fundamentally weakens the institution of the information commissions as it adversely impacts their ability to function in an independent manner.
Prior to the amendments, the law defined a fixed tenure of five years (subject to retirement at 65 years) for information commissioners and the salaries, allowances and other terms of service for commissioners of the Central Information Commission and chiefs of the state information commissions were on par with election commissioners, which were the same as that of Supreme Court judges and were decided by Parliament.
Despite strong opposition within and outside Parliament, the amendments were pushed through without even being referred to a standing or select committee of Parliament. The RTI Amendment Act, 2019 has been challenged in courts.
RTI (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Chief Information Commissioner, Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission, State Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners in the State Information Commission) Rules, 2019