The NDA government represented by minister Dr. Jitendra Singh made multiple claims about the RTI. Here is a fact check of some of those claims.
The Minister of State in the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), Dr. Jitendra Singh on 19 July, 2019, during the introduction of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, spoke at length about the NDA government’s achievements and initiatives for RTI. He made multiple claims while introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha. Similar claims were tweeted by the BJP later. In this story, we look at three specific claims made by the minister.
The amendment is now passed by both the houses
On 19 July 2019, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the government. The Bill, which was later passed on Monday, 22 July, had proposals which gave powers to the Central Government to fix salaries and tenures as well as set the service conditions for the Information Commissioners at both the Central and State level. This sparked a debate in both the houses of parliament since a majority of the opposition were against the bill stating that the bill was not sent for parliamentary scrutiny and that it lacked legislative competence. The bill was also referred to as the RTI ‘Elimination’ bill by the opposition.
During the debate, Dr. Jitendra Singh, made a few claims regarding the role of the NDA Government in upholding the objective of the Right To Information Act of 2005 that was formulated to empower citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government, contain corruption and make democracy work for the people in the real sense.
When was the RTI Online portal launched?
One of the claims made by the minister is that the NDA government launched the RTI online portal to ensure that citizens can file RTIs 24 hours a day instead of it being a 10am to 5pm affair.
In order to substantiate his point stating that the NDA government has always been working towards the refinement of the act, the minister said that it was the Modi-led NDA government that introduced the online web portal for RTI. But an office memorandum (OM) dated 22 April, 2013 released by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions had details regarding the launch of the online portal for RTI along with its link.
In this OM, it has been clearly stated that ‘a Web Portal namely RTI Online with url https://rtionline.gov.in has been launched. This portal, developed by NIC, is a facility for the Indian Citizens to online file RTI applications and first appeals and also to make online payment of RTI fees…’ It has also been mentioned that the facility was then available only for the Department of Personnel Training and had details regarding the plans to extend the same to other ministries.
When this memorandum was released on 22 April, 2013, the then Minister of State of the department was V. Narayanaswamy. The UPA government was in power in the year 2013.
Also, in the press release made on 17 March 2017, we can see that the Secretary, DoPT, B P Sharma mentioned that the RTI Online Portal was launched in August 2013. The Union Minister had mentioned that the government was persuading more states and departments to adopt this. The Secretary, DoPT, further added that as on 1 April, 2016, only 477 Public Authorities (PAs) were aligned with the portal. An additional 1,363 more PAs aligned with the same by 17 March, 2017. Further, 198 PAs under the Delhi Government also adopted the portal. Plans to include PAs from Puducherry and Chandigarh by the end of April 2017 have also been mentioned in the press release. From this, we can infer that the NDA Government did take initiatives to include more PAs in the portal. But, to say that the NDA government launched the portal is not true.
Claim: NDA Government launched the RTI online portal for 24/7 filing of RTI applications.
Fact: An Office Memorandum released in April 2013 clearly mentions the launch of online portal to file RTI and it was during the UPA government. The claim made by the minister ishence FALSE.
Did the NDA government let the leader of the single largest group in the opposition in the selection committee?
The minister also claimed that since the Congress did not get the Leader of Opposition status, the NDA Government let the leader of the single largest group in the opposition a member of the selection committee of the Information Commissioners.
While accusing the opposition for having made a clumsy RTI Act, the minister claimed that it was the NDA government that included the leader of the single largest group in the opposition in the selection commit though the Congress did not have the Leader of Opposition status. But a glimpse into the RTI Act, as it was passed in 2005 reveals the following.
In Section 12 of the Right To Information Act, 2005, Paragraph 3 clearly states that ‘The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—
(i) the Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee;
(ii) the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; and
(iii) a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister ’
In order to clarify who the leader of opposition will be, there is a small explanation given after this stating that in circumstances where there is no clear recognition of the Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha, the leader of the single largest group of the opposition of the government will be considered the Leader of Opposition.
At the State Level, Paragraph 3 of Section 15 states that ‘The State Chief Information Commissioner and the State Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—
(i) the Chief Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee;
(ii) the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly; and
(iii) a Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Chief Minister’
An explanation regarding the leader of the opposition to ward off doubts has been given. Here, if the Leader of Opposition has not been recognised in the Legislative Assembly, the Leader of the single largest group in opposition of the Government in the Legislative Assembly will be considered the Leader of Opposition here.
In other words, the original act itself contains the details pertaining to the selection committee and as demonstrated above, it is evident that the NDA Government had no choice but to include Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha during 2014-19 in the selection committee. The NDA government hasn’t done anything that is not there in the act.
Claim: Since the Congress did not get the Leader of Opposition status, the NDA Government let the leader of the single largest group in the opposition a member of the selection committee of the Information Commissioners.
Fact: It is already been mentioned in the RTI Act, 2005 that in case there is no Leader of Opposition recognised in the Lok Sabha (Legislative Assembly in case of State Level),
the leader of the single largest group in the opposition of the Government will be deemed as the Leader of Opposition. Thus, this claim is also FALSE.
Was the RTI Act passed in haste?
Another claim made by the minister is that the UPA government made a clumsy RTI act and was also done in haste. He went onto say that the NDA government is trying to modify the same.
The RTI bill was introduced by the UPA-1 government on 23 December, 2004 in the parliament. It was then sent to the Department Related Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances , Law & Justice. The bill was referred to the standing committee on 31 December, 2004 and the committee submitted its report on 21 March, 2005. In other words, the standing committee took more than 80 days to deliberate on the bill and provide its feedback. Incidentally, the current President of India, Ramnath Kovind who was then a member of the Rajya Sabha, was also a member of this committee. The committee had also recommended that it is necessary to elevate the status of information commissioners to that of the Election Commission of India. Hence to say that the act was done in haste is false.
Claim: The UPA government made a clumsy RTI act and was also done in haste.
Fact: The RTI bill was introduced in the Parliament in December 2004 and was referred to a standing committee which then submitted its report in March 2005. Thus, the claim that the act was done in haste is FALSE.