MPs Must Foil Attempt to Backstab RTI Act: Former CIC Dr Sridhar Acharyulu
Moneylife Digital Team 22 July 2019
Dr M Sridhar Acharyulu, former Central information commissioner (CIC) has appealed to all members of Parliament (MPs) to defeat the amendments being made to the Right to Information (RTI) Act by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. 
 
Moneylife is in possession of a copy of the appeal made by Dr Acharyulu, who served as the CIC between 2013 to 2018, which goes as follows: 
 
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 will be a stab in the back of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and a deathblow to RTI. It seriously undermines the autonomy of the information commissions because it reduces the stature of the commissioners, which is now equivalent to the election commissioner and a judge in the Supreme Court. Ever since it came into existence in 2005, the information commission has had enough authority to issue directions to anybody including the cabinet secretary, and principal secretary regarding disclosure of information under the RTI Act.  As of now the information commissioner has a fixed tenure of 5 years or attaining age of 65 year whichever is earlier.  It is difficult to remove the commissioner from office within this term. 
 
This Bill, if passed, will remove the guarantee for the term and stature for five years. This means legislative safeguard to the term of the commissioner is abolished and the government of the day will be empowered to prescribe any term, stature or salary. 
 
The statements of objects clearly stated that CIC is not equal to CEC and hence they are amending it to reduce the stature. It is not clear as to what kind of reduced status they are going to accord to the CIC and SIC. For one recruitment the government may prescribe joint secretary status and three-year term, or for other set of commissioners, the government may give four or two years by frequently changing the rules. Or it may favour other batch recruitment with a six year term and a higher salary.  
 
The legislature did not give this power to Executive in 2005 Act. Now the executive is usurping this power of the legislature, without any justification. It will seriously dent the present independence of the commissioners and make them subordinate to the government departments.
 
Now itself, the governments are choosing those retiring babus who are very loyal to them, as ICs so that they do not independently act according to the RTI Act.
 
With this Bill, the persons selected as IC with a reduced stature, term and salary will be further submissive to chief ministers and prime ministers and deprive the citizens of their right to information. This will kill the Right to Information totally. 
 
The Bill is based on two wrongful propositions—that RTI is not a constitutional right and secondly, the earlier Parliament (government) erred in hurriedly equating CIC with CEC. 
 
The Supreme Court proclaimed the RTI as a constitutional right emanating from Article 19(1)(a) which guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. 
 
The Central Election Commission (CEC) enforces the right to vote, which is part of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) which is further explained in Article 324. 
 
In a way, the CEC enforces only a small part of the right to freedom of speech and expression , while the CIC is entrusted with enforcement of wider aspects of this right, namely the Right to information. Without receiving information no citizen can express his views or criticise the wrong policies of the government.  
 
If the RTI requests are answered as per the law, it will directly impact governance, especially public delivery systems and expose the corruption that is widespread in the lakhs of government offices spread all over the nation. 
 
This wrongful measure will make the commissioners spineless and powerless to issue any disclosure order and they will fail to implement the objectives of the RTI Act.
 
This Bill thus adversely affects the Right to Information and Article 19(1)(a) by undermining the independence of the information commissions by facilitating the government of the day with the huge power of meddling with the stature of the commissioners. 
 
Through this Bill put before the MPs the government is asking for more powers to reduce the capacity of the information commissioners by removing their guaranteed term. It amounts to the removal of commissioners against the scheme and a system that has been working for nearly a decade and a half. If the MPs approve this Bill, ICs will become annexures or appendages of senior babus in the state and Central governments. 
 
I appeal to both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs to oppose it and see that it is rejected. The responsibility lies more on the members of the Rajya Sabha because they represent states, whose power to appoint independent commissioners is being removed and given to the Centre. I request every Member of Parliament to save RTI and to prevent the government from killing the commissions and this valuable citizens’ right.
Comments
P M Ravindran
3 years ago
Whatever Acharyalu has articulated is nothing better than crap. The fact is that the RTI Act has been murdered by none other than these information commissioners. In fact I had petitioned the then President of India to remove the first Chief Information Commissioner of Central Information Commission, Wajahat Hahibullah, under Sec 14(3(d) of the RTI Act which reads as: the President may by order remove from office the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner if the Chief Information Commissioner or a Information Commissioner, as the case may be ...(d) is, in the opinion of the President, unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body. Sufficient documents had been submitted to help the Prez to decide accordingly. The petition to the Prez is available at http://raviforjustice.blogspot.com/2012/01/rti-old-application-to-president-to.html. Similarly, a petition had been submitted to the then Governor of Kerala to remove its first CIC, Palat Mohandas, also. A petition to the Governor to remove all ICs of Kerala SIC is at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-compker-govksic071107to-remove-i-cs.


Analysing the RTI Act, its implementation and it subversion by the ICs it could easily be seen that the job of an IC is simpler than that of a munsif in our judiciary. But providing them status and perks equal to CEC, ECs and Chief Secretaries have only reduced the information commissions to rehabilitation homes for some blue eyed but useless public servants to have a picnic for another 5 years at tax payers' cost. For a more detailed analysis and comprehensive suggestions please refer the blog at https://www.slideshare.net/raviforjustice/rti-rules-2017redrafted-by-rti-activist.

The subversion of the RTI Act is so thorough that I am running a campaign Save RTI with the following mission statement:

SAVE RIGHT TO INFORMATION. USE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT.
GET INFORMATION OR......
EXPOSE AT LEAST THREE IDIOTS/TRAITORS* AMONG PUBLIC SERVANTS!
1. THE PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
2. THE FIRST APPELLATE AUTHORITY (AND THE HEAD OF PUBLIC AUTHORITY WHERE THE HEAD OF THE PUBLIC AUTHORITY IS NOT THE FAA!) AND
3. THE INFORMATION COMMISSIONER

* An idiot is one who does not know the job s/he is getting paid to do and a traitor is one who knows it but does not do it. Provided that even an idiot can be branded a traitor based on the consequences of his/her action.
bidyut barman
Replied to P M Ravindran comment 3 years ago
Protect RTI Act by protecting its autonomy. The amendment will only dilute the Act. Being an activist if someone is not satisfied with ICs then he has all the right to protest and inform/organise people's opinion but not by demeaning the statute of the commissioner. Many disagrees with the functioning of CEC, but it does not mean that a new government should try to dilute the role of CEC (although its not possible). Following the amendment, what is the guarantee that the new IC won't be an "idiot" or "traitor". Even if you wish, you can not change him if the present government likes him. Therefore, it is for our own good to keep the autonomy of CIC intact, so that dedicated and honest CIC will only work for the people and wont be influenced by Ministers of the Government.
MOHAN BHASKAR WAGH
3 years ago
I. FULLY SUPPORT. THE. VIEWS. EXPRESSED BY. FORMER. CIC. COMMISSIONER. THIS GOVERNMENT IS. TRYING TO. CONTROL. CIC AND. ULTIMATELY WANTS TO DESTROY RTI ACT. THIS. IS. ONE MORE EXAMPLE OF. DICTATORSHIP. SOON THERE WILL BE. FULL. DICTATORSHIP. RULING INDIA
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