NEW DELHI, July 22 : The landmark Right to Information (RTI) Amendment Bill 2019, moved by Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh, was passed today by the Lok Sabha, after a fierce debate lasting nearly four hours, in which over twenty leaders from different political parties participated, including among others Shashi Tharoor from Congress, A. Raja from DMK, Prof Saugata Roy from TMC, Mehran Mehtab from BJD, Asaduddin Owaisi from AIMIM and others.
Refuting the opposition charges, one by one, in a pointed reply of nearly 40 minutes, Dr Jitendra Singh said, he was not upset but rather amused by some of the unsubstantiated observations made by the opposition leaders, possibly because they had not thoroughly studied the legislation brought by him. At the same time, he personally thanked the opposition members for the personal compliments showered on him in spite of the criticism about the Bill, and made a special mention about Shashi Tharoor who had described him a “decent” person and Prof Sugata Roy who had referred to him as a “gentleman politician”.
In a cryptic response, punctuated with poetry and wit, Dr Jitendra Singh said, he was himself not a lawyer by profession, but thanked some of the lawyers from the opposition benches including Owaisi and Prem Chandran, who had prompted him to read the law overnight, in order to be able to confront them in the House.
Dispelling the criticism that RTI Amendment Bill is going to compromise the autonomy and independence of the RTI Act, Dr Jitendra Singh pointed to Section 12(4) of the Act which ensured the autonomy of the Act and which was left untouched by the new Bill. Similarly, he also pointed out Section 12(3) of the Act which dealt with the appointment of the Information Commissioners and this Section was also left untouched. He reiterated that the Bill brought by him was only an “enabling” legislation which sought to amend Section 27 of the Act to authorise the government to frame the rules. Section 13 and Section16 were however to be amended because these dealt with tenure and terms of the office of Information Commissioner, he added.
Turning the tables on the opposition for the charge that the Modi government is interfering with the federal structure of India by deliberating on the terms and conditions of office of the State level Information Commissioners, Dr Jitendra Singh reminded the opposition that it was the RTI Act 2005 prepared by the Congress led UPA Govt and inherited by the Modi Govt, which conferred the provision under Entry-97 of Central List-1 in the 7th schedule of constitution with residual power to do so.
Finally the bill was passed after a division of votes, as requested by the opposition.