Terming a proposed amendment in the RTI Act a "stab in the back" of the Central Information Commission and a "deathblow" to the law, former central information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu has urged members of Parliament to reject the changes.
The former information commissioner, who is known for his pro-transparency orders in several high-profile cases, said the proposed changes "seriously undermine" the autonomy of information commissions.
Acharyulu, a noted law professor, said this "wrongful measure" will make the commissioners spineless and powerless to issue any disclosure order and they will fail to implement objectives of the Right To Information Act.
"If the MPs approve this bill, ICs will become annexure or appendages of senior babus in state and central governments. I appeal to both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs to oppose it and see that it is rejected," he said in a letter to parliamentarians.
He said the responsibility lies more with the members of Rajya Sabha (counsel of states).
"It reduces the stature of commissioners, which is now equivalent to election commissioner and judge (of the) Supreme Court," he said.
The government wishes to amend the tenure and service conditions of the rank of information commissioner, which is statutorily at par with election commissioner, to a new system where it "shall be such as may be prescribed by the central government".
The proposed bill dated July 15 has been tabled in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh on Friday.
It states that term of office, salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions shall be "as prescribed by the central government".
He said the information commissioners have a fixed tenure of five years or attaining age of 65 years, which ever is earlier, making it difficult to remove the commissioner from office within this term.
If the bill is passed the guarantee for the term and stature for five years will be removed, Acharyulu said.
"This means legislative safeguard to the term of commissioner is abolished and the government of the day will be empowered to prescribe any term, stature or salary," he said in the letter.
Acharyulu said the statements of objects in the proposed bill clearly stated that the CIC is not equal to the CEC, hence the government is making the amendments to reduce the stature.
The commissioner, who gave orders on disclosure of academic records of BA pass students of 1978-batch (the year Prime Minister Narendra Modi graduated) of Delhi University and summoned the RBI governor for not following Supreme Court on transparency, said the Executive did not have powers to amend salary and tenure of information commissioner as per the 2005 act.
"For one recruitment the government may prescribe joint secretary status and three-year term, or for other set of commissioners, the government may give four or two years by frequently changing the rules," he said.
He said it will seriously dent the present independence of the commissioners and make them subordinate to government departments.
The bill is based on two wrong propositions -- that RTI is not a constitutional right and second that earlier Parliament erred, in a hurry, in equating CIC with the CEC, he said.
He said the apex court proclaimed right to information as a constitutional right emanating from Article 19(1)(a) which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.
The CEC enforces the right to vote, which is part of expression right under Article 19(1)(a) which is further explained in Article 324, he said.
"In a way, the CEC enforces only a small part of the expression right, while thte CIC is entrusted with enforcement of wider aspect of expression right -- right to information. Without receiving information no citizen can express his views or criticise the wrong policies of the government," he said.