A Government Move On RTI Law Has Opposition Smelling Rat

Government wants to give itself the power to decide salaries of Information Commissioners

NEW DELHI:  The government may give itself the power to decide the salaries of the Information Commissioners, in a controversial move that opposition parties and activists say is an attempt to weaken the Right to Information Act.

Under the Right To Information Act enacted by parliament in 2005, the Chief Information Commissioner at the centre gets the same salary as the Chief Election Commissioner while the salary of the state Chief Information Commissioners is on par with the emoluments of the Election Commissioner.

An amendment drafted by the NDA government has suggested that this provision should be removed, and the salary should be prescribed under the rules.

The department of personnel and training, which deals with the transparency law, has suggested it may not have been a good practice to link the salary of the information commissioners to the Election Commissioners, since the Election Commission was a constitutional body and dealt with the conduct of elections across the country.

They say the Central Information Commission is only a statutory body looking into complaints and appeals of those seeking information under the information law enacted 12 years ago.

The amendments would give state governments the powers to fix salaries of the information commissioners as well.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala called the change a dilution of the law.

"We will oppose this amendment tooth and nail," he said.RTI activists, already upset with the manner in which information commissions have been functioning, say the proposed change appeared to be aimed at showing the information commission "its place".

They complained that the central commission had been operating with just six of the ten information commissioners, forcing people to wait longer before the appeals can be heard.But it isn't just the centre that has been accused of chipping away at the transparency law.

A nationwide study last month had lamented at how state governments were out to render the law ineffective by not appointing enough information commissioners.

The study by the Centre for Equity Studies and the Satark Nagrik Sangathan shows that at the present rate of disposal and the number of pending appeals, an RTI appeal filed in West Bengal Commission would take 43 years to be heard. In Kerala, an appeal filed today would come up for hearing 6.5 years later.