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Sunlight and shadow: on amendments to the RTI Act

The government must roll back amendments that weaken the RTI Act

As a law that empowers the citizen, the Right to Information Act, 2005 quickly struck root in a country saddled(काठी/लादना) with the colonial(औपनिवेशिक ) legacy(विरासत/वसीयत) of secretive(गुप्त/संकोची) government. The move by the NDA government to amend(संशोधन/सुधरना) the far-sighted law aims at eroding(नष्ट करना/खा जाना) the independence of the Information Commissions at the national level and in the States. The proposed amendments show that the Central government seeks(चाहता है/प्रयास करना) control over the tenure(कार्यकाल/अवधि) , salary and allowances of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at the Centre, and the State Chief Information Commissioners. Such a change would eliminate(निकाल देना/खारिज करना)the parity they currently have with the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners and, therefore, equivalence(समानक/समतुल्यता) with a judge of the Supreme Court in matters of pay, allowances and conditions of service. The Centre will also fix the terms for State Information Commissioners. This is an ill-advised(अविचारी/मूर्ख) move and should be junked(से किनारा कर लिया) without standing on prestige(प्रतिष्ठा/प्रभाव) . If at all, the law needs to be amended only to bring about full compliance by government departments(विभागों) and agencies that receive substantial(पर्याप्त/ठोस) funding from the exchequer(खजाना/सरकारी खजाना), and to extend its scope to more institutions(संस्थानों/समाज) that have an influence(प्रभाव/प्रतिष्ठा) on official policy. The Supreme Court has held the right to information as being integral(अभिन्न/संपूर्ण) to the right to free expression under Article 19(1)(a); weakening the transparency(पारदर्शिता) law would negate that guarantee.

In its rationale(तर्क/मूल कारण) for the amendments, the Centre has maintained(बनाए रखा/कायम रखा गया) that unlike the EC, Information Commissions are not constitutional bodies but mere statutory(क़ानूनी/वैधानिक) creations under the law. This is a narrow view, betraying(धोखा/प्रकट करना) an anxiety(चिंता/घबराहट) to tighten the hold of the administration on the Commissions, which even now get little official support to fill vacancies and improve efficiency(क्षमता/योग्यता) . A recent public interest petition(याचिका/दरख़ास्त) filed in the Supreme Court by the National Campaign(अभियान/मुहिम) for People’s Right to Information pointed out that the Central Information Commission has over 23,500 pending appeals and complaints, and sought(प्रयास करना/खोजना) the filling up of vacancies in the body. In many States, the Commissions are either moribund or working at low capacity owing to vacancies, resulting in a pile-up of appeals. The challenges to the working of the law are also increasing(बढ़ रहा,/इज़ाफ़ा होना), with many State departments ignoring the requirement(आवश्यकता/आकांक्षा) under Section 4 of the Act to publish information suo motu. The law envisaged(उल्लिखित/परिकल्पित) that voluntary(स्वैच्छिक/स्वेच्छापूर्ण) disclosure wouldreduce(कम करना/छोटा करना) the need to file an application. Since fines are rarely imposed, officers give incomplete, vague(अस्पष्ट/अनिश्‍चित) or unconnected(असंगत/बेमेल) information to applicants with impunity(दण्ड मुक्ति/माफी). Proposals to make it easier to pay the application fee, and develop a reliable(विश्वसनीय/भरोसेमंद) online system to apply for information, are missing. These are the serious lacunae(खामियों/अभाव). Attempts(प्रयास/चेष्टा) were made by the UPA government also to weaken the law, including (समेत/सहित) to remove political parties from its purview(दायरे/विस्तार). Any move to enfeeble the RTI Act will deal a blow to transparency.



Important Vocabulary

Synonyms: covert, enigmatic, reticent, taciturn, backstairs
Antonyms: communicative, forthright, honest, open

Synonyms: alter, enhance, lift, modify, rectify
Antonyms: lower, worsen, break, decrease, depress

Synonyms: administration, occupation, ownership, regime, reign
Antonyms:misconception, misunderstanding, release

Synonyms: agreement, alikeness, compatibility, conformity, correlation
Antonyms: difference, disagreement, dissimilarity, imbalance, inequality

5.Junked(से किनारा कर लिया)
Synonyms: damaged, abandoned, deserted, discontinued, forsaken
Antonyms: cherished, kept, up-to-date, worthwhile

6.Eliminate(निकाल देना/खारिज करना)
Synonyms: cancel, defeat, dispose of, disqualify, eradicate
Antonyms: add, aid, allow, create, establish

Synonyms:lawful, legal, judicial, rightful
Antonyms: illegal, illegitimate, illicit, unlawful

Synonyms: ability, adaptability, capability, competence, energy
Antonyms: idleness, ignorance, impotence, inability, inadequacy

9.Sought(प्रयास करना/खोजना)
Synonyms: desired, hunted, needed

Synonyms: spontaneous, chosen, free, independent, volunteer
Antonyms: forced, involuntary, obligatory, unwilling

11. Vague(अस्पष्ट/अनिश्‍चित)
Synonyms: ambiguous, dubious, equivocal, faint, fuzzy
Antonyms: apparent, certain, clear, definite, determined

Synonyms: detached, disconnected, divided, independent, separated
Antonyms: connected, joined, linked, material, pertinent

Synonyms: break, cavity, depression, gap, hiatus
Antonyms: closure, continuation, continuity, misfortune



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