A Bill to amend the RTI Act – introduced by Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Dr Jitendra Singh in the Lok Sabha on Friday, 19 July – was passed on Monday in the Lower House amid Opposition protests.
Singh defended the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, saying that it in no way compromises the independence of the Act, as alleged by some members of the Opposition.
While introducing the Bill, Singh said: “In the last five years, we have tried to make RTI more effective. We made the RTI portal. What had you (Congress) done? Timing for filing the RTI was 10-5pm. Now, if you want, you can file an RTI even after 12 am. We brought this in (NDA’s) five years. Who can blame us for weakening the RTI? We made it online.”
In a video clip, posted on the minister’s official Facebook page, he can be heard saying the same – at around the 6:30 mark.
The same clip was uploaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party on its Youtube channel as well.
He further took a dig at the Congress for drafting the RTI Act of 2005 in haste, thus leaving ‘several missing links.’
His statement came in response to Opposition's allegations, that the amendment will only dilute the Act.
WAS RTI WEB PORTAL INTRODUCED UNDER NDA?
As per Singh's claim, the RTI service was brought online under the NDA government – that is, over the last five years. This claim, however, is untrue.
A 2013 Press Information Bureau release states that the web portal was launched by the then Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and Prime Minister’s Office, V Narayanasamy.
The release, which dates back to 21 August 2013, states that:
"Union Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and Prime Minister’s Office Shri V Narayanasamy has said that rtionline web portal is another milestone in the regime of RTI that will further promote participation of our citizens in the process of governance and policy making decisions of the Government.Speaking at the launch of the portal in New Delhi today he said though presently this facility has been provided to Central Ministries, DoPT will consider extending this facility to the subordinate and attached offices of Central Government also."
The release also provided the URL of the web portal. “The RTIonline web portal has been developed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) at the initiative of Department of Personnel and Training. The url of this portal is https://rtionline.gov.in.”
WHAT IS THE AMENDMENT?
The proposed changes in the Bill involve the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners at the state and central levels. The Information Commissioners, who currently have five-year tenures, will now have "terms as may be prescribed by the central government".
Instead of being on par with that of Election Commission officials, their salaries will be decided by the central government, the Bill proposes.
CONTENTION OVER AMENDMENT TO RTI ACT
The Opposition, meanwhile, has argued that the Bill will dilute the Act.
On Friday, Congress’ Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said: “RTI Act is a fundamental right and this bill is an attempt to infringe on our right”. He also pointed out that the Bill was not circulated to members two days before its introduction, as is prescribed by the rules.
Congress’ Shashi Tharoor also alleged that the proposal is “an RTI elimination Bill”.
AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi also opposed the introduction of the Bill and sought clarifications from the minister.