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Rajya Sabha passes RTI Bill amid strong protest; What is the opposition objecting?

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New Delhi, July 25: The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill even as the opposition strongly opposed the bill and accused the government of intimidating MPs.

The opposition had demanded that the bill be sent to a Select Committee for further deliberation. The demand to send it to a Select Committee was negatived by 75 ayes and 117 noes.

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Chaos erupted in the House as opposition members troop into the well and Congress even walked out of the Upper House. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said ministers are intimidating MPs. "You are trying to turn the Parliament into a government House or department," he said before announcing that the Congress is walking out.

The existing law mandates a fixed five-year term, and equates the status of the information watchdog to that of election commissioners. The amendments moved by the government pertain to the tenure, allowances, and the terms of service of information commissioners

The Congress, Left and the Trinamool Congress said the changes are designed to undermine the status of the information commissioners to get back at the organisation that had often exerted its independence.

"Real motive is to make Information Commission a toothless body," said Congress' Jairam Ramesh

This is a pill that has decided to kill the RTI, said Ramesh. "The original Bill equated the information commissioners with the Secretaries. But the Standing Committee suggested the CIC and IC to that of CEC and EC. It may be noted that President Ram Nath Kovind, then the MP, was part of the Standing Committee," he said.​

Ramesh said that the timing of the amendment is neither innocuous nor innocent. Noting five orders of CIC - PM's educational qualification, government's false claim on bogus ration cards, that RBI disapproved demonetination, the then RBI Raghuram Rajan had given the list of top NPA defaulters, quantum and value of black money brought back from abroad, he said the real reason behind the Bill is to make the Information Commission a toothless body.

[Amid opposition protest, Lok Sabha passes RTI Amendment Bill]

Jairam Ramesh alleged that the government is amending the RTI Act as the Prime Minister is "taking revenge" for the disclosure in five cases directed under it which includes disclosure of demonetisation and regarding his educational qualifications. The other three cases are related to actual number of bogus ration cards, disclosure over quantum of black money brought from abroad and submission of list of defaulters, which were revealed after the order of Central Information Commissioner (CIC), Ramesh said in Rajya Sabha. He was participating in the debate on the RTI amendment bill.

What are the main objections to RTI Bill?

The bill proposes to amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. The ammendment states that term of offices, salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions shall be "as prescribed by the Central Government". The move has been criticised by activists who said it will affect independence and neutrality of the transparency panel.

It must be recalled that last year the government's efforts to push the bill was stalled in the wake of protests from civil society and opposition parties.

The opposition's main objection is that the amendment proposes to give the Centre the power to set the tenure and salaries of state and central Information Commissioners. Critics of the bill dub the amendment as Centre's attempt to get a hold over the salaries, allowance and terms and conditions of service of the chief and other information commissioners in both the Central and State Information Commissions.

In the present form Section 13 (5) of the Right to Information Act provides that the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of the service of the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner while that of an Information Commissioner shall be same as that of an Election Commissioner. The amendment circulated by the Government states that the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners have salaries of a Supreme Court Judge which brings Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at par with the apex court judges.

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