https://bit.ly/2IVUVsr

This article is written by Vividh Jain, a student of the Institute of Law, NIRMA University. In this article, the author deals with the rules related to the Central Information Commission mentioned under the provisions of Right to Information Act, 2005. 

Introduction

Section 12 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with the constitution of a statutory body known as the Central Information Commission. According to this provision, the central government shall constitute a body called the Central Information Commission bypassing a notification in the Official Gazette. The Central Information Commission is entitled to exercise the powers conferred to it and perform its duties and functions as per this legislation. The Government of India through the Parliament of India amended the Right to Information Act in July 2019 and introduced some changes in RTI Rules related to salaries, allowances, and tenures of the Information Commissioner(s). The members of opposition parties started protesting and challenging these proposed amendments on the ground that these changes are arbitrary in nature and the Government of India wants to degrade the effectiveness of the Information Commission

Salient features of Section 12 of the RTI Act

Section 12 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 is termed as the constitution of the Central Information Commission. Furthermore, the salient features of this section are as follows:

  • Section 12(1): This subsection empowers the central government to constitute a body known as the Central Information Commission. 
  • Section 12(2): As per sub-clause (2) of Section 12, the Central Information Commission should consist of the Chief Information Commissioner and such other Chief Information Commissioners not more than 10 as may be deemed necessary. 
  • Section 12(3): As per sub-clause (3) of Section 12, the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President of Republic of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of; the Prime Minister of India, as the Chairperson of the committee; the leader of the single largest group in opposition of the Government of India in Lok Sabha; the Union Cabinet member shall be nominated by the Prime Minister of India. 
  • Section 12(5): As per sub-clause (5) of Section 12, the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners should be the person of acknowledge superiority in public life and possess wide knowledge and experience in the field of law, technology, social science, management, science, mass media, journalism, governance, and administration. 
  • Section 12(6): As per sub-clause (6) of Section 12, the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners shall not hold any office of profit or should not be the Member of Parliament or shall not be the Member of any State/Union Territory Legislative Assembly, or shall not be pursuing any profession or carrying any business or shall not be connected with any political party. 

Power and functions of Information Commissions

Section 18 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 talks about the powers and functions of the Information Commission. As per this provision, it is a duty of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commission to inquire the complaints received from any person: 

  1. who has been unable to submit a request for information to a Public Information Officer either at central or state level, either by the reason that no such officers have been appointed under this statute or the appointed officers refuse to accept his/her application;
  2. who has been refused to get access to the information requested under this statute;
  3. who has not been receiving any response for the application he/she made for information and access to information with the limited time as per this legislation; 
  4. who has been required to pay an unreasonable amount of fee; 
  5. who believes that the information provided by the officers are false, misleading and incomplete in nature; 
  6. In respect of other matters related to the violation of the provisions of this Act. 

Where the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions, while inquiring are satisfied with the reasonableness of the complaints, it may intimate an inquiry and the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions have the same power as of the civil court while intimating a suit under the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, like to:

  1. summon the attendance of any person or compel any person to give written or oral pieces of evidence on oath or order him to produce the documents or things;
  2. require the discovery and inspection of any documents;
  3. receive pieces of evidence on affidavit;
  4. requisition any public record or copies of documents from any court or office;
  5. issue summons for examination of documents and witnesses; 
  6. any other matter related to this Act

Other important features of the RTI Act, 2005

Appeal

Section 19 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with the provision related to appeal. If any person does not receive a decision for the complaint he/she made under Section 18 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 or if that person is aggrieved by the decision of Public Information Officer either at central or state level, can file an appeal to the senior officer in rank to the Public Information Officer within thirty days from the date of such decision. If the person still is not satisfied with the decision, he may file a second appeal to the Central Information Commission or State Information Commission within ninety days from the date of such decision. And the decision of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commission would be binding on the complainant. 

Penalties 

Section 20 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with the provision related to penalties. If the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission is of opinion that the Public Information Officer either at central or state level, has not performed his duty and without the reasonable cause, reject or refuse to entertain the application made by the complainant, or with malafide intention reject or refuse the application made by the complainant, or intentionally provide false, misleading and incomplete information, such officer shall be liable to pay a penalty of Rs. 250 per day till the application is received or furnished and the Central Information Commission or the State Information Commission may recommend disciplinary action against such Public Information Officer either at central or state level.   

Salient features of the RTI (Amendment) Act, 2019

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 introduces amendments in the provisions related to salaries, allowances and tenure of the Central and State Information Commission. The salient features of the Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 are as follows: 

Tenure

The tenure of all the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners at central and state level has been reduced from five years to three years, which was provided in Section 13 of the original Right to Information Act, 2005. According to Section 13 of the original Right to Information Act, 2005, all the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners at Central and State level shall hold the office for a period of five years or till they reach the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier and should not be eligible for reappointment. In the recent amendment, the maximum age limit of 65 years remains the same but now all the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners at Central and State level can be appointed for one more term. 

Salaries and allowances 

According to Section 13(5) of the original Right to Information Act, 2005, the salary of the Chief Information Commissioner shall be equal to the salary of the Chief Election Commissioner i.e. Rs.2,50,000 per month and the salary of an Information Commissioner shall be equal to the salary of an Election Commissioner. In the recent amendment, the salary of Chief Information Commissioner at the central level remains unchanged but, there is a deduction of Rs.25,000 in the salaries of the upcoming person who would be appointed as the State Chief Information Commissioner anywhere in the entire nation. The upcoming batch of Information Commissioners at Central Information Commission and State Information Commission will receive a salary of Rs.2,25,000 which was previously at Rs.2,50,000. 

Other service conditions

In all the matters related to leaving, dearness allowance, leave travel concession, accommodation, and at the time of retirement encashment of unutilized leave, the Chief Information Commissioner and have been assigned the same level of payment as the babus service included. Meaning to say, the Chief Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission has been assimilated with the cabinet secretary, while all the other Information Commissioners, State Chief Information Commissioners of all the States and Union Territories, and babus are of the same grade while serving the central government or state government respectively.

Discretionary power to relax applicability of Rules 

Rule 22 of the Right to Information Rules, 2019 empowers the Central government with the discretionary power to relax any of the rules mentioned in this enactment with regards to any category or class of people in future. 

Discretionary power to decide other matters 

Rule 21 of the Right to Information Rules, 2019 provides absolute power to the central government to decide on any other matter or service conditions which have not been specifically mentioned in this enactment and its decision would be binding on all. Rule 23 of the Right to Information Rules, 2019 makes the Central Government the sole arbiter in determining these rules

2019 RTI Rules- Criticism w.r.t. Information Commission

The Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 violates the equality principle of jurisprudence where it divides the Information Commissioners at Central and State level on the basis of salaries and allowances. This ruling introduces two pay grades within these Information Commissions. According to the original Right to Information Act, 2005, the Chief Information Commissioners and other Information Commissioners at central and state levels were entitled to the same salaries and allowances, but the recent amendment creates a difference of Rs. 25,000 between their salaries and allowances. This means the salary of the Chief Information Commissioner at the central level remains unchanged but there is a deduction of Rs. 25,000, making it Rs. 2,25,000 which was previously at Rs. 2,50,000. This applies to the salaries of the upcoming person who would be appointed as the State Chief Information Commissioner anywhere in the entire nation and the upcoming batch of Information Commissioners at Central Information Commission and State Information Commission.

These rules of creating a difference between the salaries of the Central Chief Information Commissioner and all the other Information Commissioners are arbitrary in nature. Moreover, giving plenty of powers in the hand of the Central Information Commission over State Information Commissions, when the Central Information Commission does not spend a single amount on the salaries and allowances of the State Information Commissioners is arbitrary, unreasonable, and destroys the federal structure of the Right to Information Act, 2005. 

                  

By comparing the salaries of the officers who govern the statutory body known as the Central Information Commission with the babus, which was previously compared with the salaries of the Chief Election Commissioner directly questions the effectiveness of bureaucracy in India. These rules directly challenge the seniority, knowledge, and acknowledgement of the Chief Information Commissioners and other Information Commissioners. The Central Government would be in charge of all the Information Commissions and they will adjust the salaries and allowances according to their wish or imagination for a batch of new officeholders and be the sole arbiters of all matters of understanding of these 2019 Rules. Giving the Central Government too much control as it will not pay a dime on the State Information Commissioners’ salaries and allowances is unfair, unconstitutional and violates the uniform system under the RTI Act. State Information Commissions have always been and will appear to be compensated out of the State concerned ‘s Consolidated Fund. The Central Government has no power over the manner these funds are used from the Consolidated Fund of the State, unless and until the State is placed under the rule of the President under Article 356 of the Constitution of India.

Conclusion 

Pursuant to the statutory provision of Section 29 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, it is necessary to request the tabling of these 2019 Right to Information Rules in parliament during the next session. Parliamentarians must be allowed to move motions for annulment of these laws and rules or amendments, as they are permitted to do so. If this idea fails, these amendments must be scanned by the Parliamentary Committee to find some loopholes with open opportunities created for the public to give their opinion and comments on why these amendments and rules must not be allowed to enact. If both the above-mentioned ideas fail, the public can knock the door of the court and challenge the enactment of these rules. 

References 


LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here