India's government has decided against amending the Right To Information Act

India's government has decided against amending the Right To Information Act

India’s activists can rest easy. The Right to Information (RTI) Act of 2005 - a key guarantor, at least in principle, of India’s democracy - seems safe, for now.

The central government has reportedly suspended plans to amend the act, after its proposed changes were met with a heavy backlash, not only from activists, but its own information commissioners as well.

Information commissioners are tasked with facilitating the implementation of the act through the Central Information Commission (CIC), which acts upon appeals and information requests from activists.
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The CIC, which met last week to discuss the proposed amendments, told the Department of Personnel and Training that the RTI Act should stay as is and that the amendments were flawed. An inside source confirmed this development to The Economic Times. Hence, the government has decided against implementing the changes.

Controversial amendments

The draft amendments to the RTI Act have been in the works for while, but were made public by the Department of Personnel and Training in April 2017. As soon as they were released, the government was criticised by all stakeholders for trying to dilute the act.
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One of the main objections by information commissioners was against a proposal that gave the chief of the CIC the sole right to assign a case involving an appeal or a complaint to a single information commissioner as opposed to a bench of them.

This went against the very nature of the RTI act, which requires the chief of the CIC to be assisted by information commissioners when it comes to assigning cases. The primary concern regarding this amendment was that it could lead to intervention by the government - something that would be harder to do if assigning cases were a collective responsibility.

Another controversial change recommend was related to the withdrawal of cases in the event of the RTI applicant’s death. If implemented, this would have endangered the lives of applicants.
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In fact, this is already happening. According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 75 RTI activists have died since the passage of the act in 2005.

The remaining proposals included the imposition of an application fee of ₹10 and a mandatory deadline of 90 days from the date of the request to file an appeal.

Protection for applicants
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The decision to cancel these amendments is the right one. What the government needs to improve, however, is the security of applicants. As discussed in a previous piece, their personal details need to be prevented from getting into the wrong hands.

Furthermore, appeals and requests need to be processed faster by imposing strict penalties on information commissioners for delays and the government and its ministries need to voluntarily publish information regarding their operations.

The RTI Act is capable of affecting change, but its effectiveness hinges on the continued desire to access information. It requires amendments, but not the ones that have been proposed until this point.
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