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RTI Amendment Bill that Modi Govt wants will render the law useless

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RTI Amendment Bill that Modi Govt wants will render the law useless

Modi government’s proposed move to amend the Right to Information (RTI) law to expand government control over the information commissioners is facing stiff resistance from the Opposition, intellectuals and activists who say it will render it useless.

After putting information about political funding beyond the pale of public scrutiny, this is the second major move by this government against transparency and accountability.

The proposed changes will involve the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners at the states and centre, which, activists say, is a coercive measure that will interfere with their freedom to make independent decisions.

The Congress has said the BJP-led central government is destroying institutions and legislations of transparency and accountability in the country.

Party chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Every Indian has the right to know the truth. The BJP believes the truth must be hidden from the people and they must not question people in power. The changes proposed to the RTI will make it a useless Act. They must be opposed by every Indian.”

Challenging the changes, the Opposition said it is committed to fighting any “attempt” by the Centre to “dilute” the Act and resist any amendments to it.

The “Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2018” proposes that information commissioners – – who currently have five-year tenures – have “terms as may be prescribed by the central government”.

Their salaries, instead of being on par with that of Election Commission officials – will be decided by the Central government.

Government sources said it was suggested that it is not good practice to put Information Commissioners on par with Election Commissioners. Justifying this on basis of legal nitpicking rather than the stated, express purpose of the office, they said the Election Commission is a constitutional body responsible for free and fair elections, but the Information Commission is a statutory body formed to look into complaints and requests for information under the RTI.

Stating “objects and reasons” for these amendments, the government has said, “The functions being carried out by Election Commission of India and the Central, and State Information Commissions are totally different… Hence their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.”

Extensive protests have been held in Delhi and other parts of India since the government listed the bill for “introduction, consideration and passing” in the monsoon session.  The protests were attended not only by RTI activists, but anti-corruption workers and the relatives of people who were killed while exposing corruption across the country.

Lack of information about the proposed changes even pushed activists to file an RTI petition regarding the contents of the bill.

The Congress, the Left, the Trinamool Congress, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal have said they will oppose any move to dilute the RTI Act.

Currently, the salaries and tenures of central and state information commissioners are statutorily protected as they are provided in the RTI Act.

Anjali Bhardwaj of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) said the amendment “will fundamentally weaken the institution of the commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner. The status conferred on commissioners under the RTI Act is to empower them to carry out their functions autonomously and require even the highest offices to comply with the provisions of the law.”

A report in The India Express (IE) quoted former Central Information Commissioner (CIC) Shailesh Gandhi as saying that the move seemed to be a fall-out of the Central Information Commission’s orders to respond to RTIs about the educational qualification of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former CIC Shailesh Gandhi said by bringing in the amendment, the government was “violating the pre-legislative consultative policy”.

“There is no valid reason for the government to amend the Act. The only possibility is that the central government seems to be annoyed about the CIC’s orders to disclose the educational qualification of the Prime Minister… it could be an act of vengeance or arrogance,” he said.

RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said when the Act was introduced in 2005, Parliament had discussed the issue threadbare, the IE report said. “The emphasis of Parliament was on giving autonomy and independence to information commissions, both at the Centre and the state. Now this government seems to be bent on doing away with the autonomy and independence of the commission,” he said.

He pointed out that the RTI Act already has a provision for the removal of information commissioners.  “If a complaint is made to the President, he refers it to the Supreme Court, which probes the complaint and makes recommendations to the President. The Central Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner can be removed from office only by the order of the President, on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. This happens only after the Supreme Court probes the complaint on a reference made to it by the President,” he said.

Similarly, at the state level, the governor has the power to take a decision about the removal of state chief information commissioners and information commissioners.

Another RTI activist, Maruti Bhapkar, said the statements and objects of the Bill stated that the RTI Act was enacted to promote transparency and accountability of every public authority towards citizens. “But by amending the Act, the government is seeking to make the commissions accountable to it and seeking to destroy its transparent functioning,” he said. Bhapkar said if the central government had the power to decide the tenures and salaries of information commissioners, the commissioners would be “under pressure not to annoy the government, which means they would be biased on delivering justice”.  “The existence of such a justice delivery system is against the spirit of the Constitution,” he said.

India News

Swati Maliwal reacts to viral video, refers accused as political hitman

The Rajya Sabha MP added that the political hitman is getting his people to tweet and play videos without any context.

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Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Swati Maliwal has reacted to the viral video, allegedly shot at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. The video shows the Rajya Sabha MP in a heated confrontation with the staff. 

Reacting to the viral video on X, formerly Twitter, Swati Maliwal said that like every time, this political hitman has started efforts to save himself.  She was apparently referring to Bibhav Kumar, whom she accused of assaulting her. 

The Rajya Sabha MP added that the political hitman is getting his people to tweet and play videos without any context. She added that the truth will be revealed to everyone as soon as the CCTV footage of the house and the room is checked.

She concluded that he may fall to whatever level he can, but God is watching everything, and one day everyone’s truth will come out in front of the world. Earlier, Swati Maliwal has alleged that she was assaulted by the Chief Minister’s personal assistant, Bibhav Kumar, when she sought time to meet the Chief Minister that day. 

In the viral video, shared across the social media platforms, Swati Maliwal can be seen engaged in a heated exchange with staff members who are requesting her to exit the drawing room. 

In the footage, Bibhav Kumar, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s former PA implicated in the assault allegations, is seen present in the room while other staff are speaking with Swati Maliwal. Additionally, MP Swati Maliwal is also heard issuing a threat to one of the staff members, vowing to ensure their job termination. However, the authenticity of the video remains unverified.

In the formal complaint lodged with the Delhi Police, Swati Maliwal detailed a disturbing sequence of events, alleging that Bibhav Kumar subjected her to multiple instances of physical violence. Maliwal alleged that Bibhav Kumar repeatedly slapped her at least seven to eight times while she continued to cry. She also said that she was dragged and kicked in the chest, stomach, and pelvis area.

The complaint stated that when she entered the office and attempted to reach the Chief Minister’s PA, Bibhav Kumar, she was unable to find him. She then entered the residence and was told to wait in the drawing room, when Bibhav Kumar suddenly entered, shouting and abusing her. The alleged assault took place on May 13, when she visited the Civil Lines residence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. 

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India News

ED names Arvind Kejriwal, AAP as accused in Delhi excise policy case

Arvind Kejriwal was taken into custody on March 21. The Supreme Court last Friday granted him interim bail.

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Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been named toady as a prime accused by the Enforcement Directorate in a new supplemental chargesheet in the money laundering case pertaining to the now-scrapped Delhi liquor excise policy 2021–2022.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been identified as an accused in the case by the central inquiry agency.

In the excise policy case, the ED informed the Supreme Court that it had found conversations between Arvind Kejriwal and hawala operators about the purported profits of crime.

The organization said that since Kejriwal declined to provide the password to his devices, the chats were retrieved from the hawala operators’devices.

Kejriwal filed a plea contesting the legality of his arrest by the EnforcementDirectorate, and the top court has reserved its decision. It allowed the Delhi Chief Minister to petition the trial court for bail without compromising his legal rights and appeals before the Supreme Court.

The CM filed a plea contesting the legality of his arrest by the EnforcementDirectorate, and the top court has reserved its decision. It allowed the Delhi Chief Minister to petition the trial court for bail without compromising his legal rights and appeals before the Supreme Court.

After the Delhi CM ignored nine summonses from the ED, he was taken into custody on March 21. The Supreme Court last Friday granted him interim bail. Last month, bail was granted for Sanjay Singh, his party colleague. Two other leaders of the party, Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain, remain incarcerated.

On August 22, 2022, the ED filed a money laundering case in response to a CBI FIR that had been filed on August 17, 2022, in order to investigate suspected anomalies in the DelhiExcise policy of 2021–2022.

Following Delhi Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena’s recommendation for an investigation into purported irregularities in the formulation and execution of the liquor policy, the CBI had filed a FIR.

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2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Rahul Gandhi says Congress will give 10kg free ration if elected to power

He also recalled that during the UPA government, the Congress has given legal status to the right to food through the Food Security Act.

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Ahead of the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election, Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday said that the Congress will provide 10 Kg free ration to the poor families if elected to power. He added that 10 Kg ration along with Rs 8500 per month will promote education and self-employment among millions in the country.

Taking to social media platform X, formerly Twitter, Rahul Gandhi said that Congress has taken another big decision for the poor families of the country. He promised that his party will give 10 Kg free ration, instead of 5Kg. He also recalled that during the UPA government, the Congress has given legal status to the right to food through the Food Security Act. and that 10 Kg free ration will be the next step in the direction.

Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of running a government of Adani, and making 20-25 billionaires, the senior Congress leader said that Congress will make crores of millionaires and run the government of Indians. Earlier, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge also promised to provide 10Kg free ration if voted to power.

Meanwhile, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi on Thursday slammed BJP’s 5Kg ration policy at an election rally in Uttar Pradesh’s Raebareli, where Rahul Gandhi is contesting. She said that 5Kg ration will not make one self-reliant, but employment will. She explained the electorates need to understand that political parties whose ideologies make people dependent is not right. She concluded that voters will choose employment over 5Kg ration that BJP promises.

Along with 10Kg free ration, Congress has also promised to start recuitment process for 30 lakh government post by August 15. The Party also vowed to provide the youth their first job of Rs 1 lakh per year. It also guranteed better working conditions, pensions and social security for the work force of the gig economy.

Furthermore, the Congress also promised start-up funds for young entrepreneurs at district levels from the national funds of Rs 5000 crore. The party also pledged to give National minimum wage of Rs400 per day, including all MGNREGS workers, and stop contractualisation of employment in core government functions.

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