Amending the RTI Act
by P M Ravindran on 24 Aug 2019 1 Comment

As an activist in the field of right of information, 25 July 2019 is a red letter day, the day that the first amendment to the Right to Information Act, 2005 cleared the last hurdle in the Rajya Sabha. After approval by the President of India it is now law. Before proceeding further, let us understand what these amendments are.


Firstly, sections 13(1) and (5) and 15(1) and (5) between them provide for chief information commissioners and information commissioners to have a fixed tenure of 5 years or up to 65 years of age, whichever is earlier, and salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service as applicable to the Chief Election Commissioner /Election Commissioners at the Centre and Election Commissioner/ Chief Secretaries to the Government in the states.


The amendments have done away with the fixed term of 5 years and empowered the Union Government to revise the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the information commissioners, including the chief.


The first thing that should be obvious is that these amendments in no way affect the right of citizens to get information under the Act. Shockingly, some well-known names in the field of right to information are propagating exactly the opposite, viz., that the government is undermining the sunshine law and that no information is going to be made available in future. 


An online petition condemning the amendments, initiated by former information commissioner of the Central Information Commission, Shailesh Gandhi, and supported by the likes of Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bharadwaj, etc., has been signed by 186,078 citizens as of 12 August 2019. This certainly necessitates questioning their knowledge of the law as it is and even more so, their motivation.


Shailesh Gandhi is the only RTI activist who had the opportunity to enforce the law as an information commissioner. But horror of horrors, the worst decision in a 2nd appeal I have in my files is also his. The 2nd appeal was against the Public Information Officer and First Appellate Authority of the Central Information Commission itself. It was regarding the status of four appeals I had filed in two lots of two each. Though I had not received any information, the information commissioner had dismissed the appeal, stating that all available information had been provided.

(See ‘RTI Act-Shailesh Gandhi and Schopenhauer's Law of Entropy’ at


The job of an information commissioner is simpler than that of a munsif. Since the RTI Act overrides all other laws, these commissioners are bound only by the RTI Act and the rules made by the competent authorities for its implementation. The RTI Act is also the simplest of laws in India: concise and unambiguous. These qualities enable even laymen to identify when information commissioners play foul. And the biggest foul played by these commissioners is failing to impose the mandatory penalty Rs 250/day of delay in providing the information sought.


Even when the information commissioners order information sought to be provided, proving both that the information was held with the public authority and the delay, they ‘fail’ to impose the mandated penalty which by this time would be the maximum at Rs 25,000/-. A power point presentation available at  shows that penalty is actually imposed in less than 4 per cent eligible cases. Imagine the loss to the exchequer due to this delinquency of the information commissioners. Worse, this has actually resulted in total subversion of the law.  


In an application, dated October 1, 2007, I had sought some information pertaining to the construction of a railway road over bridges in a division. I did not get it. Ms Annapurna Dixit, who considered the appeal, directed the railways to provide the information and I got it on June 13, 2009. But she too failed to impose the Rs 25000/- penalty. She took only the period from the date of her decision to the date of providing the information for calculating the penalty, which was only Rs 7000/-. In spite of this shortcoming and the fact that the procedure was not exactly proper, this decision remains the best decision I have in my records.



Cut to 2013. I sought an update on the same list of bridges as was provided to me in 2009, plus some more details of a particular bridge under construction in my town. Forget about getting any information, I did not get even acknowledgements for the application and 1st appeal. Vijay Sharma, the Chief Information Commissioner, who considered the 2nd appeal in July 2015, simply dumped the main requirement and just directed the public authority to provide part of the information sought of the bridge in my town. No penalty was imposed.



Section 219 of the Indian Penal Code provides for punishing public servants in judicial proceedings with up to 7 years of imprisonment for making decisions contrary to law. The actual wording is:


Section 219. Public servant in judicial proceeding corruptly making report, etc., contrary to law: Whoever, being a public servant, corruptly or maliciously makes or pronounces in any stage of a judicial proceeding, any report, order, verdict, or decision which he knows to be contrary to law, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.


The only deterrent for the common citizen to approach the courts is the cost and delay involved. And this is being exploited by these information commissioners.


Thus the current amendments are not only a mandatory step in the right direction to curb wasteful expenditure, but would help to avoid dead wood accumulating in information commissions. If the status, pay and perks of the information commissioners are equated to munsifs, then the young blood that would be infused could even give new life to the RTI Act, which is now definitely on the ventilator.


Inducting young blood is only part of the requirement. The competent authorities will also have to use Sec 27(2)(e) of the RTI Act to specify the rules of procedure, including time frames, to be adopted by the Information Commissions in deciding the appeals.



In an article, As UT, J&K Now Falls under Central RTI Act 2005, but Problems Remain, Vinita Deshmukh brought out two good provisions in the JK RTI Act, 2009. One was that the information commissioners were required to decide appeals within 120 days and the other was for the first appellate authority to make a reference against an errant PIO to the information commission to impose a penalty.



Strictly speaking, there needs to be provision for the 1st appellate authority to impose the penalties prescribed in Sec. 20 of the Act on Public Information Officers and for information commissions to impose penalties on defaulting 1st appellate authorities. As of now, the 1st appellate authorities are seen only as introducing delays and acting like post offices with no application of due diligence. For the effective implementation of the law, such fine tuning is very much required. But for now the current amendments are definitely better than nothing.


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