Why have you not replied to notice in RTI case: SC to Centre

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The Supreme Court on Friday demanded to know why the Centre had failed to respond so far to a court notice, on a petition filed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh alleging dilution of the Right to Information Act. “How have you not filed a reply? The court issued notices in January 2020,” a bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud demanded to know.

“What is wrong with you? It is a very important matter,” Justice MR Shah, the other judge on the bench, asked, and added: “The RTI Act is under challenge.”Ramesh’s plea was argued by advocate Sunil Fernandes. The government on its part sought another two weeks to file an affidavit. The case will now be listed after the Union comes back with a response. The government had brought in certain amendments to the RTI Act in 2019. Among other things, the amendments had changed the fixed terms provided under the Act for the central and state information commissioners and made their pay and service conditions subject to rules to be framed by the executive.

This, the petition said, would compromise the independence and impartiality of the information commissioners as it would subject them to the vagaries of executive whims and caprices. Their term under the original Act was fixed for five years. The new rules mandated a three-year term at the pleasure of the central government. The new rules also allowed the government to fix salaries and other service conditions at its discretion as opposed to the earlier rules which mandated that they be on par with the election commissioners.

Ramesh’s plea argued that though the government had put forward these changes to the law as necessary to rationalise service conditions, these would have an adverse impact on the citizen’s right to know. It also had no rational nexus with the objective sought to be achieved by the law, the petition said.

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