Why are these amendments being brought about now? It is very interesting. It is very important to understand that the timing of these amendments is not so innocuous; it is not so innocent; and after reviewing RTI decisions some of which have already been alluded to by Mr Singhvi, I have here five cases that have propelled the government to bring forward these amendments.
Between 2003 and 2013, the Chief Minister of Gujarat came to the Planning Commission, and the Planning Commission would ask him uncomfortable questions on the state of health in Gujarat, on the state of education in Gujarat; why social development in Gujarat was not commensurate with economic development in the state.
In 2014, the chief minister of Gujarat became the Prime Minister of India (expunged) and abolished the Planning Commission. Today, the Prime Minister of India is (expunged) on these five cases.
What are these five cases? Firstly, the CIC ordered disclosure of the Prime Minister's educational qualification; the matter is in the Delhi High Court today, as I speak.
The second embarrassing case for this government is, the Prime Minister claimed that 40 million bogus ration cards were weeded out by his government. The RTI showed that the number of bogus ration cards is about 23 million and a correction had to be made by the Prime Minister to make that number commensurate with the Parliamentary question that was answered by Ram Vilas Paswan.
The third is the disclosure on demonetisation. It was the Chief Information Commission's decision which revealed that less than four hours before the Prime Minister announced demonetisation on November 8, 2016, the Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India gave its approval.
The first embarrassing case was the disclosure of the Prime Minister’s educational qualification. Since it is pending in the court, I am not expanding on it. The second is the false claims made by the Prime Minister on bogus ration cards. The third, which I was reading before I was interrupted is that four hours before the television announcement on demonetisation, it is an RTI request that revealed that the RBI gave its approval to the scheme.
The fourth embarrassing case to this government is that an RTI enquiry revealed that the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Dr Raghuram Rajan — the Minister may kindly listen to me and not look perplexed because these are all facts; it is the RTI enquiry that revealed this — had listed out the names of NPA defaulters to the Prime Minister’s Office eight months into his Prime Ministerial tenure.
The fifth case, which is embarrassing to this government is that the Chief Information Commission directed the Prime Minister’s Office to disclose information about quantum and value of black money brought back from abroad. The Prime Minister's Office refused to share the details of the quantum of black money brought back from abroad despite the CIC ordering the disclosure.
So, the real reason is not this false reason of parity with the Chief Election Commission. The real reason for these Amendments is to make the Information Commission toothless, to make sure that these types of embarrassments don't repeat themselves. And the only way to do it is to convert the Chief Information Commission from an independent autonomous body to a toothless government, Prime Minister’s Office-directed body. That is the real business of this Amendment Bill.
A couple of days ago, the Minister defended these amendments. And, while defending these amendments, he said, ‘We have strengthened the RTI Act. We have given the CIC its own building. They have their own building.’ Mr Minister, you did not do the CIC any favour by giving them a building. The building was under construction. You were fortunate that the Prime Minister happen to be there in Office to go and inaugurate the building. So, to say that you have strengthened the RTI by giving the CIC a separate building is a deliberate falsification of facts.
The second point that the Minister made is, ‘One of the missing links is that there was no provision to frame rules under the RTI Act. It should have been there.’ Sir, this is completely an erroneous impression. Section 27 — I don’t know whether the Minister has ever read the RTI Act — of the Act empowers the Central Government and the State Governments to make rules. We don’t pass any Bill without the power to make rules.
The third claim, the Minister said, ‘It is this Government which introduced a portal for the RTI.’ Sir, the portal was inaugurated on August 21, 2013, by his predecessor, Shri V Narayanasamy, who is now the Chief Minister of Puducherry.
He said, ‘We walked an extra mile. There should be Leader of Opposition in the Selection Committee. But, now, the leader of the largest Opposition party is a Member.’ He made it sound as if he was doing us a favour. You look at the original RTI Act and I invite the Minister’s attention to Section 12(2). What does it say? It says that the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
The Minister has forgotten to add the explanation in the original Act. The explanation says, ‘for purposes of removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that where the Leader of Opposition in the House of People has not been recognised as such, the leader of the single largest group in Opposition of the Government in the House of People shall be deemed to be the Leader of Opposition.’ This is in 2005. And, the Minister tells Lok Sabha that there was no provision for the leader of the largest party and we are making this provision. These are all misleading statements being made.
Edited excerpts from Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, Jairam Ramesh, speaking during the debate on the RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019, on July 25, 2019