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Parliament approves amendment to RTI act

July 25, 2019 21:03 IST

The Opposition's motion to send RTI (Amendment) bill to a select committee of the House was negated by 117 members voting against it and 75 members voting in favour. 

Parliament approved the amendment to the Right to Information Act, with Rajya Sabha on Thursday passing it after negating an Opposition sponsored motion to send it to a House committee for greater scrutiny.

The motion was negated by 117 members voting against the motion and 75 members voting in favour.

This after high drama in the House over what opposition charged was "intimidation" by the treasury benches to get the motion for sending the amendment to the RTI Act to the select committee rejected.

C M Ramesh, who recently quit the Telugu Desam Party to join the Bharatiya Janata Party, was seen getting vote slips signed by members and was confronted by an angry opposition parties led by the Congress.

Deputy chairman Harivansh asked Ramesh to go back to his seat as Congress members Viplov Thakur and others tried to snatch the vote slips from hands of Ramesh.

The House then plunged into a turmoil as Opposition members rushed into the Well shouting slogans against such strong arm tactics.

Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the House has witnessed how "303 seats are won", an apparent reference to the BJP winning absolute majority in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

Treasury benches countered this.

Azad then led the Opposition walkout saying they are boycotting the proceedings.

Result of the division was announced after the walkout.

The motion for sending the amendment to the select committee was put to vote after a division was sought when the pandemonium broke out.

The ensuing vote on the passage of the amendment after the opposition walkout, was carried by voice vote.

Replying to the debate on the amendment, department of personnel and training minister Jitendra Singh said the amendment was not brought without any motivation and was in good faith.

This, he said, will lead to institutionalisation of chief information commission and strengthen the provision of RTI Act.

Earlier, the government and the Congress-led Opposition locked horns on the issue of sending RTI (Amendment) bill to a select committee of the House, forcing four adjournments.

As soon as the House resumed in the afternoon, deputy chairman Harivansh asked Singh to move the bill.

After moving it for consideration, the minister urged the Chair to hold discussion on the bill and then decide on the motions for its passage as well as the issue of sending the draft law to a select committee.

As many as five members had given notice for amendment seeking to send the bill to a select Committee.

The government stuck to its point that the motions for sending the bill to select committee and passage of the draft law would be taken up after the discussions.

The House witnessed four brief adjournments amid the din as Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Communist Party of India, CPI-M, Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party members remained in the Well and raised slogans against the government.

The opposition members also stuck to their demand to move the motion for sending the bill to select committee before initiating discussion on that.

Before the stalemate, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien told the Chair that the House took up two short duration discussions and three calling attention during this session.

He said that as per convention, the House should take up at least one short duration discussion in a week and therefore sufficient time is not being given to discussing important issues.

He also said that a short duration discussion on ministry of MSME was listed for discussion which later vanished.

On this, Azad said that the House is still short of two short duration discussion during this session.

He also said,"We have been passing legislation. There has to be discussion on those."

Parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi said,"I assure that next week, we are ready to clear the backlog (of short duration discussion)."

Prakash Javadekar said,"Conventions are relevant when the House runs smoothly. The other House passed bills. As many as 22 bills lapsed. The House could not pass it. There is context to it."

Thereafter Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue of scrutiny of bills before passage in the House.

Sharma said,"We are not under obligation to blindly endorse the bill which come from Lok Sabha. We are clear on it that if other House has not referred the bill to standing committee then it is our duty to send it to a committee. It cannot be done in hurry."

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha objected to Javadekar's remark on performance of other House.

BJP leader Bhupender Yadava said that the issue of sending the bill to select committee would come when it would come up for discussion.

The Opposition members got agitated when the Deputy Chairman called five members for moving the motion for referring the bill to select committee and then asked to initate debate on the draft law.

Congress leader P Chidambaram said that "you are confused as the members have not moved an amendment to the bill rather they have moved a motion to send the bill to a select committee".

He asked how can there be discussion on the bill without disposing off a motion as that motion has already been adopted.

While moving his motion for sending the bill to select committee, Congress member M V Rajeev said that this is an attempt to weaken the RTI law.

CPI MPs Binoy Viswam, E Kareem and CPI-M MP K K Ragesh also moved the motion to send the bill to a select committee.

The deputy chairman called Jairam Ramesh as first speaker on the bill.

But when he could speak amid the din, Harivansh called V P Saharsabuddhe for discussion.

The Congress and other Opposition members kept on raising slogans in the well and deputy chairman adjourned the House for 15 minutes till 2:46 pm.

The House again adjourned for 10 minutes and as the stalemate continued it led to another brief adjournment. After this the House adjourned for another 15 minutes.

As the protests continued and some members threw papers in the Well of the House, deputy chairman Harivansh said it amounted to indiscipline and observed what impression was being set especially as school children were sitting in the Visitor's gallery to witness the proceedings.

The deputy chairman made repeated appeals to protesting members to return to their seats and said they should participate in the discussion on the bill and vote on the bill to be sent to the select committee.

Without naming the Congress, BJP leader Shiv Pratap Shukla recalled the days of Emergency observing that people were jailed and said the government was not trying to dilute the RTI Act and wants to ensure its proper implementation.

Shukla said a few days ago some people returned their titles and, pointing towards the protesting members in the Well, mentioned they earlier stood in support of such people who were supporters of naxalites and terrorists.

He said some people now want to present a view that prime minister must stop mob lynching. He said this government framed a law to curb mob lynching.

BJP MP Vinay Sahasrabudhhe said what happens in select committees is not much different from the discussion that takes place in the House and the process will only consume time.

"I believe those sloganeering and trying to quell our voice are attempting to snatch away our right to speak," he said to the protesting members.

A Navaneethakrishnan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam said his party supports the bill.

When asked to speak as per his turn on the bill by the deputy chairman, RJD's Manoj Kumar Jha said he was witnessing the killing of democracy and does not want to be a part of it.

Anil Desai from Shiv Sena said democracy if at all being disturbed in the House was a shameful act of the Opposition and expressed "strong support" of his party to the bill.

V Vijayasai Reddy of the YSRCP also supported the bill.

In his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha, Sasmit Patra of the Biju Janata Dal termed the RTI an important ingredient of governance and said his party has certain reservations and would seek an assurance from the government that the changes through the amendments will not lead of any dilution of the overall standing and flow of the RTI Act 2005.

When the House resumed after fourth adjournment, Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi, participating in the debate, opposed the bill.

He said the amendments in RTI has been sought to make it "NRTI" (Not to Right to Information) and what the government was terming simple changes were actually meant to establish its control.

"The government is scared to giving independence to RTI. If you make this amendment, you're going to downgrade the institution and control it," he said.

Singhvi said that instead of strengthening and elevating it was interestingly a reverse amendment to devalue the RTI and strange reasons were cited for it like the salaries and perks of the Chief Information Commissioner will be equivalent to Chief Election Officer and the judges of the Supreme Court.

"Have the CAG, the Election Commissioner or the Supreme Court judges ever complained that the salary will be equivalent to them or are they feeling insulted," Singhvi demanded to know saying sinister designs were behind the amendment as the government wanted to fix age on its own.

He demanded the amendment bill be referred to the select committee as the government was bent to "cripple" the act for reasons known to them.

Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali Khan quoted BJP senior leader Lal Krishna Advani as saying that the BJP is totally against any move to dilute the act.

Janata Dal-United Ram Chandra Prasad Singh and Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP K Keshava Rao also spoke.

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