Retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur on Wednesday criticised the amendments made to the Right to Information Act. The recent changes were regressive, and would have a negative impact on the functioning of the law, he added.

At a public meeting organised by Satark Nagrik Sangathan in New Delhi, Lokur pointed out that the Centre had not yet framed the rules regarding the salary and tenure of information commissioners. “It has been more than two months since the amendments received the assent of the president on August 1, 2019,” he said. “However, till date the central government has not promulgated rules.”

In July, Parliament had passed the amendments, giving the government powers to fix salaries, tenures and other terms and conditions of employment of information commissioners. The changes were heavily criticised by activists.

The RTI Act will continue to suffer if the rules are not framed, Satark Nagrik Sangathan quoted the former top court judge as saying. “Why would anyone want to join the information commission when there is no clarity about salary or tenure of job?” Lokur asked.

The former judge said the RTI Act enabled people to seek any information of importance, and hold the government accountable, PTI reported. He said information commissions were necessary for the functioning of the law.

Lokur urged information commissioners to punish officials who withhold information as it will send a strong message to public authorities. He also asked the Central Information Commission to video record and broadcast proceedings to gain people’s trust.

Satark Nagrik Sangathan released an assessment titled “Report Card of Information Commissions in India 2018-19” at the event. Activist Anjali Bhardwaj, who is part of the organisation, said the report revealed how governments across the country were trying to undermine the RTI Act. “In several commissions, despite large number of pending appeals and complaints, governments had failed to take steps to appoint information commissioners, thereby frustrating peoples right to know,” she said.

Bhardwaj pointed out that not a single information commissioner had been appointed in Tripura since May 2019, and the state information commission in Andhra Pradesh had not been functioning for the past 17 months.

Earlier in the day, in an op-ed article published in The Indian Express, Lokur alleged that the government was trampling on judicial independence through appointments. He said the National Judicial Appointments Commission, a proposed reform to give the government more control over choosing judges that was struck down as unconstitutional, was effectively in place because of the Centre’s behaviour.

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