Monday, July 29, 2019

Right to Information Amendment Act, 2019

The Right to Information Act of 2005 was a path breaking legislation in the history of the Indian republic. Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a "public authority" which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.

This Right to information Act, 2005 was a replacement of the Freedom of Information Act of 2002. This was a powerful piece of legislation that empowered the people of the democracy. Everyone welcomed it, the public, the media, the bureaucracy and even the political diaspora. 

Well, recently... that is about 10 days ago on the 19th of July, THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION (AMENDMENT) BILL, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha and within 4 days of its introduction, which includes a weekend, the bill was passed without much discussion and any changes to the proposed bill. Here's the PDF of the Bill as passed by the Lok Sabha on the 22nd of July, 2019.  

19th July, 2019

The Bill was introduced by Jitendra Singh, I'm guessing he was wearing his MoS of PMO hat while introducing this bill. Just 4 MPs of the house, namely Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury,Sougata Ray, Shashi Tharoor and Asaduddin Owaisi opposed the introduction of the bill and said there were clarifications that they sought from the minister. 

While Adhir Ranjan and Sougata Ray spoke of not enough bills being referred to a standing selection committee for further scrutinizing and refinement, Shashi Tharoor spoke about the RTI institutions and commissioners losing autonomy, and Asaduddin Owaisi went into technicalities and spoke of the bill lacking legislative competence. 

There were give and takes hurled to and from the opposition and the government at each other. The opposition sticking to its stand of wanting to send the bill to a standing committee before the introduction in the house and the government standing firm on its take that there were not enough valid reasons to send it to a standing committee. At this point Asaduddin Owaisi raised a request for a division in the house - basically a vote, and as it turned out, the house stood that Ayes 224; Noes 9; and hence the bill was introduced.

22nd July, 2019

The bill came up for discussion with N. K. PREMACHANDRAN MP from Kollam raising a concern that he had proposed amendments to the bill but that has not come up for consideration. The minister Jitendra Singh brushed it off. 

The same bandwagon of MPs from the opposition spoke against the bill and urged the minister to withdraw the bill. While Shashi Tharoor said the amendments would make the RTI a toothless tiger, Sougatha Roy quoted american presidents to coax the minister to withdraw the bill. There were also members like Jayadev Galla and Sunita Duggal who accused the government of strong arming its way into moving bills with its sheer majority in the house. There were also Members like Asaduddin Owaisi and Raveendranath Kumar who spoke of how the amendments would mess with the autonomy of the RTI institution and the chief Information commissioner.

After 4 o clock the MPs just went into overdrive with the opposing ministers just taking turns again and again to talk about the same things. Finally, the member from Kollam, N K Premachandran went on to call it the blackest day in the legislative history of India because his amendment request was denied without consideration and that the government was going to pass a bill because of its sheer brute force of majority. He even went on to cite supreme court judgement and called it an insult to judiciary. The government sat in stoic silence though all this.

Finally the announcement for the division of the house was made at around 5:40 PM and the bill was put to vote. With a result of 218 Ayes against 79 Noes the bill was passed in the lok sabha with a total discussion time of 3 hours and 52 minutes. The bill was then sent to the Rajya sabha where it went under further trials and tribulations.. that story is for another day.



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