The Act's objectives are:
to empower citizens;
to promote transparency and accountability;
to limit corruption; and
to increase people's participation in the democratic process
The significance of information accessibility
The presence of a right to information surely strengthens governance. Meaningful democracy is based on the notion of an informed citizenry capable of participating thoughtfully in the governance, people’s participation enriches democracy. It enables the meaningful participation of citizens and ensures government accountability. At a more fundamental level, without information, representative democracy is compromised since the public lacks adequate information on which to base their vote. They lack the needed information to make informed choice.
Access to public information is required for the proper operation of democracy, greater transparency, and good governance, and that, in a representative and participatory democratic system, the citizenry exercises its constitutional rights, including the right to contest elections, the vote, education, and association, through freedom of expression and free access to information.
Democracy and national stability are also aided by transparency measures, which increase public confidence in elected representatives. This is critical, since without the people's support and confidence, the government is more likely to meet opposition to proposed policies and initiatives, making implementation more difficult and causes unnecessary delay.
Conflict is also more probable if government opacity exacerbates perceptions of favouritism and exclusion. Systems that promote communication and empower citizens to scrutinise government decision-making processes diminish citizens' sense of helplessness and lessen perceptions of exclusion from opportunity or unfair advantage of one group over another. It effectively bridges the gap between the government and the people and combats sentiments of alienation.
The RTI Act
The goal of historical legislation was to establish openness, probity, and accountability in the governance plagued by inefficiency and corruption. This Act was proposed and eventually passed with the goal of consolidating the basic right in the country's constitution, "Freedom of Expression." According to the Act's provisions, every citizen of India has the ability to seek information from a public entity, which is obligated to respond expeditiously or within 30 days.
Term of Information Commissioners
The Act appoints Chief Information Commissioners (CICs) and Information Commissioners (ICs) at the national and state levels to administer the Act's requirements. According to the Act, the CIC and other ICs (appointed at the federal and state levels) would serve for a five-year tenure. The amendment removed this provision and states that the central government will notify the term of office for the CIC and the ICs.
According to the Act, the salaries of the CIC and ICs (at the central level) will be equal to the salaries of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, respectively. Similarly, the CIC and ICs (at the state level) will be paid the same as the Election Commissioners and the Chief Secretary to the state government, respectively.
The Bill amended these provisions to state that the salaries, allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of the central and state CIC and ICs will be determined by the central government. The modified RTI Act placed the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the mercy and pleasure of the Central government, but also the state Chief Information Commissioner and respective Information Commissioners.
It is a well-established rule of governance that tenure stability and immunity from salary and allowance adjustments contribute significantly to impartiality and aid in decision-making without fear or favor.
Amendments made in haste and without any scrutiny or debate have weakened the RTI Act and restricted openness in public transactions. At the same time, the revised Act has harmed citizens' rights while strengthening the hands of the current administration. Officials will now be hesitant to provide information on the prevailing regime.
The RTI Amendment has disempowered the common person while empowering the Central Government. The supporters of the original RTI legislation perceive this development as an attempt to undermine the independence of the ICs and turn them into government handmaidens. Opponents argue that the right to information is a constitutionally protected basic right, not a gift from the government. The action by the government jeopardizes this.