The Lok Sabha on Monday passed Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, after division that allows the Central government to notify the term of office for the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs) with the Opposition slamming the measure as diluting the provisions of the legislation.
The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed with 218 members voting in its favour and 79 against it after a reply by Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Jitendra Singh.
Congress and other opposition parties also staged a walkout after division.
Congress member Shashi Tharoor said the Right to Information Act 2005 was one of the most monumental accomplishments of the country's democratic governance in recent years.
Tharoor said he had warned that the bill was not just an RTI (Amendment) Bill but an RTI (Elimination) Bill.
He said the purpose of RTI was to make the government uncomfortable. "RTI is inevitably an instrument for keeping a check on the overweening power of the authorities," he said.
The Congress member accused the government of dismantling of architecture empowering the central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of the Information Commissioners both at the Centre and the States.
"The RTI amendment is a deliberate attempt to weaken the RTI framework and to undermine the RTI altogether and to render it a toothless tiger," he said.
He said more than 80 RTI users have been murdered because of their courage and their determination to persist in using the RTI to challenge officials who wish to keep certain matters secret.
Tharoor also said the bill had been brought without any public debate on its content.
The 2005 Act was enacted during the first Congress-led government UPA government and the alliance's chairperson Sonia Gandhi sat through the debate.
Replying to a spirited debate, Singh said that opposition leaders should not make any assumptions about the salary and terms of appointments of CIC and ICs as the Bill only states that terms and conditions will be specified by the government and these had not been deliberated upon.
"As far as the Modi government is concerned, there is nothing to hide. It is committed to full transparency and accountability," he said.
The minister said it had done away with the need for attestations as also interviews for certain category of jobs to promote transparency and accountability.
Singh said that information was being furnished by various departments on their own and orders were uploaded on websites.
Replying to the opposition members over the vacancies in the Information Commission during the previous NDA government, he said that there were more vacancies when the UPA was in power.
"I am not blaming the (then) government. It was a muti-factorial outcome," Singh said, adding that pendency of cases was now less than what it was in 2014.
Congress member Karti Chidambaram took potshots of the BJP over the number of its MPs in the House.
"BJP has 303 MPs in the house and 303 has many connotations. IPC 303, many lawyers here would know, refers to the death sentence. I hope the government will not use their 303 to give a death sentence to the spirit of RTI. 303 also refers to the standard-issue rifle, which is used by the constables even today. The 303 rifles was used by the brutal Gen Dyer to commit the horrendous massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. I hope the Government does not use its 303 to massacre the spirit of the RTI," he said.
RSP member N. K. Premachandran said it was the "blackest day in the legislative history of Indian Parliament".
"This (the bill) is an insult to the parliament," he said.
While moving the Bill for passage, Singh had said earlier that the amendment bill seeks to streamline and institutionalise the functioning of Information Commission and "remove some of the anomalies".
The minister said the CIC's status is regarded at par with that of Chief Election Commissioner which, in other words, becomes equal to that of the Chief Justice of India.
Singh said that there were a number of judgments and recommendations including that from the second administrative reforms commission which suggested that "such anomalies should be done away with".
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)