The Supreme Court Friday sought response from the Centre on a plea by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh who has challenged the constitutional validity of the Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2019 which gives power to the government to prescribe tenure, allowances and salary of information commissioners. A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph issued notice to the Centre and directed it to file response on the plea within four weeks.
Ramesh, a Rajya Sabha MP, has said in his plea that the RTI amendment Act, 2019 and the Right to Information (Term of Office, Salaries, Allowances and Other Terms and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2019 "collectively violate" the fundamental right to information of all citizens which is guaranteed under the Constitution.
The plea, filed through advocate Sunil Fernandes, said that provision of the amended Act "alters the erstwhile fixed tenure" of five years of central information commissioners (CICs) and state information commissioners (SICs), to a "tenure to be prescribed by the central government".
"Section 2(c) of the amendment Act grants absolute power to the central government to prescribe the salaries, allowances, and terms and conditions of service of the central information commissioners that in the pre-amended Act was fixed to be on par with election commissioners under section 13(5) of the RTI Act," the plea said.
It said provision of the amendment Act "explicitly grants rule making power to the government over fixing the tenure, salaries and service conditions" of information commissioners.
"Even assuming the RTI amendment Act merely delegated rule making power to the central government without thwarting the independence of information commissioners, its accompanying RTI rules complete the destruction of the independence of information commissioners....," it said.
"Under this rule, the central government is granted with absolute power to decide the 'conditions of service' of information commissioners of the CIC and SIC not expressly covered under the rules," it said while referring to one of the Rules.
Referring to the amended Act and rules, the plea said that the "unbridled and uncanalized" discretionary power vested in the Centre "jeopardizes the independence of information commissioners."
"A perusal of the impugned amendments herein would reveal that there is no rational nexus with the object of the Act," the plea said while seeking to declare the RTI amendment Act, 2019 and its accompanying Rules as ultra-vires to the aims and objects of the RTI Act, 2005 and the Constitution.