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The petition states, "The Government feels threatened by the authorities under RTI that are not answerable to it and hence, the real purpose of the impugned amendments is to clip the independence and impartiality of the authorities under the act."
The Supreme Court today issued notice in the PIL filed by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh challenging the constitutionality of the Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2019 (RTI Rules).
Notice was issued today by a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph.
The petition filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes and drawn by advocates Muhammad Ali Khan, Abishek Jebaraj and Omar Hoda states,
Ramesh has registered objection that
The RTI Amendment violates the object of the RTI Act, 2005
There is no rational nexus between the Amendment Act/Rules and the object of the Act itself.
It infringes fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.
There is non-application of mind in enacting the impugned amendments.
The impugned amendments have been enacted based on extraneous considerations.
The challenged amendments are contrary to the rulings of the Supreme Court.
Ramesh points out that, by the 2019 RTI Amendment the following changes were brought about:
The earlier fixed 5-year tenure for Central and State Information Commissioners was done away with, and the Central Government was given the power to prescribe a new tenure.
The Central Government was given the power to prescribe the salaries, allowances, terms of conditions of service of the Central and State Information Commissioners. Earlier, their salaries were fixed on par with Election Commissioners of corresponding rank.
Following this, the RTI Rules were introduced in 2019, which Ramesh argues completes the destruction of the independence of Information Commissioners.
PIL by Jairam Ramesh
In this regard, Ramesh points out the following changes brought in by the 2019 RTI Rules:
A 3-year tenure for Information Commissioners has been prescribed,
solely subject to the will of the Central Government.
The salaries of Information Commissioners are now at the “sole pleasure of the Central Government.”
The Government has been granted absolute power to decide the “conditions of service” of Information Commissioners which are not expressly covered under the Rules (in exercise of residuary powers).
The decision of the Central Government is binding upon the Information Commissioners.
The Government has the discretionary “power to relax” the applicability of the provisions of RTI Rules for any class or category of persons in the CIC and SIC.
The final interpretation of all the rules rests with the Central Government.
The petitioner has argued that these Rules confer on the Centre “unbridled and uncanalized discretionary power” that would jeopardise the independence of Information Commissioners.
It is pointed out that since post retirement benefits, pensions and allowances are not explicitly mentioned in the Rules, “the Central Government is granted absolute power to change these from time to time.”
The power to relax the applicability of theRTI Rules with respect to any person in the CIC and the SCI raises concerns about the “government’s potential to invoke these excessive powers to determine selective tenures, terms and conditions for different CICs and ICs at the time of appointment, as per its whims and fancies”, Ramesh further argues.
The petitioner further emphasises,
“The authorities under the RTI Act are Tribunals and perform quasi-judicial functions and are not mere executive appointments. They can succeed to achieve the object of the RTI Act only on a guarantee of impartiality and remaining uninfluenced by the central government of the day. Independence of authorities under the RTI is the sine qua non for the object, reasons and proper implementation of the Act itself.”
In view of these concerns, Ramesh has prayed that the Supreme Court set aside the 2019 RTI Amendment Act and the RTI Rules as ultra vires the RTI Act, 2005 and the Constitution of India.
[Read the Petition]