New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that Modi government has viewed the Right to Information (RTI) as "an obstacle to enforcing their majoritarian agenda" and that the amendments to the Act enacted by it will ensure that no information commissioner will be free from "interference and signaling" by the government.
In a statement, Gandhi said that the BJP-led government has "launched its final assault to decimate RTI" and the changes made will have "a chilling effect on all Information Commissioners- Central and State".
She said the changes will allow the Modi Government to appoint "submissive officials who don't mind serving at the pleasure of the state and who will not allow questions the government finds inconvenient to answer".
"To further erode and dilute its effectiveness, the Modi Government has passed amendments which diminish the office of the Information Commissioner in a manner that it leaves them at the mercy of very government it is required to hold accountable," Gandhi said.
She said one of the proudest achievements of the Congress-led UPA was the passage of the Right to Information Act of 2005 and the "historic legislation" gave birth to an institution that in the last 13 years has become a sentinel of democracy, transparency and accountability to the common man.
"It is no secret that the Modi Government has seen this remarkable institution as an obstacle to enforcing their majoritarian agenda without being held accountable to people. For the majority of their first term, several of the Information Commissioner offices remained vacant, including that of the Chief Information Commissioner (for ten months)," she said.
Gandhi said the term of Office for the Information Commissioners is now at the discretion of the central government.
She said under the 2005 law, the term was fixed for five years to ensure independence from executive interference and intimidation and this has now been reduced to three years and is at the continuing discretion of the Central Government.
"Any official who allows the release of information against the Government can now be swiftly removed or simply not continued in office," she said.
The Congress leader said the salaries, allowances and terms of conditions, which were equal to the Election Commissioners, shall now be as prescribed by the central government and can be changed whenever the Modi government so desires.
"By reducing the benefits for these important posts, the Modi Government has ensured that no senior self-respecting official would agree to work under such monitored circumstances. These amendments will also ensure that no Information Commissioner shall be free from interference and signalling by the Modi Government," she said.
She said Congress has opposed the amendments in Parliament and will continue to oppose them in practice.
"We condemn this piecemeal destruction of our democratic institutions and will continue to fight the Modi Government in these self-serving actions which are the very opposite of national interest," she said.
Gandhi said the law enacted by the UPA altered the relationship between citizens and their government on a scale that has not been witnessed since and RTI activists have used the law to tackle corruption, "to measure the effectiveness of government policies and to illuminate the deficiencies in processes such as demonetisation and elections".