The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed controversial amendments to the Right to Information Act as Opposition members walked out of the House in protest. The Lok Sabha had already passed the amendment bill last week, and the legislation will now go to President Ram Nath Kovind for his assent.
The amendments seek to give the government powers to fix salaries, tenures and other terms and conditions of employment of information commissioners appointed under the RTI Act. The Centre has said it is fully committed to transparency and autonomy of the institution. On Tuesday, United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi said the RTI Act was on the “brink of extinction” after the amendments were passed in the Lok Sabha.
Most Opposition parties wanted the bill to be referred to a select committee for scrutiny. However, the proposal to do so got 117 votes, while 75 MPs voted against.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP CM Ramesh, who had recently quit the Telugu Desam Party, was seen getting vote slips signed by members, which angered the Opposition. Deputy Chairperson Harivansh asked Ramesh to return to his seat, but the Opposition MPs trooped into the Well of the House.
The Opposition claimed that the proposal to send the bill for scrutiny was rejected due to intimidation by the government, PTI reported.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the House had witnessed how “303 seats are won” – a reference to the number of seats the BJP won in the Lok Sabha elections held recently. The BJP and its alliance partners do not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
The Opposition then walked out of the House.
In a series of tweets later, Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien claimed that the Right to Information had become “Right to Intimidation”. “Did the same tactics get BJP 303 seats!” he asked.
On the allegation that he tried to influence the voting, CM Ramesh told ANI: “They [Opposition] don’t have numbers, they knew they were going to lose, that’s why they are putting blame on me.”