Introduction to Right to Information:

When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else – David Brin

The state of the Indian Government is no different from what David Brin has quoted. The Government is meticulous in the sense that it wants the people of India to get any information they seek under the Right to Information Act, 2005 but it also wants to be in a position to control the information that is provided regarding the Government itself.

The Government’s move to be in command and control the information that is dispensed regarding itself by the Information Commissioners under the RTI Act is one of the principal reasons why the Amendment Bill has become so controversial. Even though the changes seem to be rather minor in the first glance, on closer look one realizes that the whole idea is to dilute the provisions of the RTI Act.

Moreover, the hanker of the Government was clear from the way the RTI Amendment Bill was thrusted and passed in both houses of Parliament in less than a week without conducting the pre-legislative consultation.

I have discussed about Right to Information Act in co-relation with Right to Privacy, in one of my previous posts.

Right to Information Amendment Bill, 2019 – What has changed:

The Bill amends Section 13 and 16 of the RTI Act, 2005.

Term and Salary:

Original Section 13 – It provided for the term of the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and the Information Commissioner as 5 years. It also provided that the salary of the CIC would be same as the Chief Election Officer and the salary of the ICs shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner.

Amended Section 13 – It provides that the term and salaries of the CIC and ICs shall be as prescribed by the Central Government.

Original Section 16 – It provided that the term of the State level Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners (SICs) at 5 years or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier. It also provided that the salary of State level CIC shall be same as that of an Election Commissioner and the salary of SICs shall be same as that of Chief Secretary to the State Government.

Amended Section 16 – It provides that the term and the salaries of the State level CIC and SICs shall be as prescribed by the Central Government.

Therefore, while the RTI Act earlier provided for fixed terms and salaries for the Information Commissioner, what the amendment tries to imply is that now the term and the salary can be fixed by the Government on case to case basis. 


Original Section 13 – It provided that at the time of the appointment of the CIC and ICs (at the central and state level), if they are receiving pension or any other retirement benefits for previous government service, their salaries will be reduced by an amount equal to the pension. Previous government service includes service under: (i) the central government, (ii) state government, (iii) corporation established under a central or state law, and (iv) government company owned or controlled by the central or state government.

Amended Section 13 – Removes this provision


Various members of the Opposition have voiced their opinions against the Amendment Bill.

Mr.Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP alleged that this Amendment Bill is a deliberate attempt to weaken and undermine the RTI provisions, and termed the amendment as RTI Elimination Bill.

Derek O’Brien, TMC MP states that the Government could easily block requests if details show the Government in poor light. He even slammed the Government on hurried passage of bills asking if it is delivery of pizzas.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said that the amendment has been passed in order to destroy CIC’s status and independence, and blamed the Modi Government of subverting the Right to Information.

Two former CICs have argued that the amendment may kill the RTI Act itself. Activists have expressed fear that this amendment poses an existential threat to the RTI.

Congress Legislator Jairam Ramesh questioned the timing of the Amendment Bill and called it profoundly dangerous. He pointed out that the Government had hurriedly passed the Bill after looking at the kind of queries that were coming in and the boldness with which the Information Commissioners were providing information relating to demonetization, bank defaulters, quantum of black money brought back, Prime Minister’s educational qualifications etc.


There has been a press release wherein Dr. Jitendra Singh has stated that there is no motivation to curtail the Right to Information. The Government has always believed in ‘maximum governance and minimum government.’ He stated that CIC is a statutory body, whereas the Election Commission is a constitutional body. Therefore the mandate of Election Commission and Central and State Information Commission is different, and it therefore needed to be determined accordingly. He added that this is only done to streamline the RTI and it will strengthen the RTI, and that it does not give the government unbridled powers, as being alleged.

Now, the mere fact that the Election Commissioner and the Information Commissioner perform different functions does not justify why the Information Commissioners cannot suddenly be treated the same way as an Election Commissioner is, after all the RTI Act stems from right to information which has the same constitutional status as that of right to vote. Various Supreme Court judgements including State of UP v Raj Narain, 1975 and Reserve Bank Of India v. Jayantilal N. Mistry have declared Right to Information to be fundamental right enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Moreover, in 2005, the parliamentary standing committee had said that the terms of appointment of information commissioner is the essence of the Bill. It must be ensured that the commission and its functionaries perform their duties independently and with complete autonomy. For this, it is necessary to elevate their status to Election Commissioner.

However, this does not mean that the independence of the Information Commissioner is fully undermined by the Amendment Bill, as the Amendment does not provide the Government the power to remove an Information Commissioner or does not provide for reduction of tenure of any one Information Commissioner.


The RTI Act was rejoiced as one of the most important and powerful legislations passed by the Indian Parliament as it provided the power to the citizens to seek different kinds of information. It made the Government authorities at all levels accountable, bringing in transparency like never before. However, the amendment has again disempowered the people while empowering the Central Government instead.

Many activists had been to the Rashtrapati Bhavan today, the 1st of August to submit a petition against the RTI Amendment Bill to the President of India to withhold his assent. However, the police detained these activists outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Therefore, the disingenuous way in which the Bill has been passed, the Amendment Bill is certainly not going to have a smooth ride up to becoming law. Also, it remains to be seen if the Amendment Bill will be challenged before the Court of Law, and whether the judiciary would be able to take a fair and virtuous decision.

Picture Courtesy: NeedPix

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