India’s parliament approves changes to right to information law despite protests

Activists shout slogans during a protest against the amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the Lok Sabha of the Indian parliament, in New Delhi on July 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 July 2019

India’s parliament approves changes to right to information law despite protests

  • The Right to Information Act, enacted in 2005, allows citizens to seek information from public bodies
  • The amendment bill was passed in the upper house of the parliament late on Thursday

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament on Thursday passed an amendment to the right to information law despite protests from activists who say the changes would diminish the independence of the commissioners who administer it.
The Right to Information Act, enacted in 2005, allows citizens to seek information from public bodies.
The amendment gives the government the power to fix the term and salary of the information commissioners, who are the final authorities to which citizens can appeal to seek information.
Before the changes to law, their terms were fixed at five years and the salaries were on par with those of the country’s election commissioners.
By giving the government the power to decide their salaries and terms, the changes would compromise the independence of the information commissioners, activists and several former information commissioners say.
“If they (information commissioners) are beholden to the government for their salary, tenure and terms of service, they will be under an obligation,” said Wajahat Habibullah, a former information commissioner.
“This goes even for those with the most undoubted integrity ... You don’t really have to be corrupt to toe the government line then,” he told reporters, alongside other former colleagues.
The government rejects complaints that the bill compromises the autonomy of the commissioners.
It has said the changes are needed as the salaries of election commissioners and the information commissioners could not be on par, since they have different mandates.
The amendment bill was passed in the upper house of the parliament late on Thursday with a voice vote as the entire opposition walked out after the government rejected its demand for the bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for deliberation.
India’s lower house of parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Bharatiyra Janata Party-led coalition, had passed the amendment bill on Monday.


Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

Updated 13 min 14 sec ago

Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

  • The chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons, particularly slowness in entering data on to the server, for missing the timetable
  • She said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week

KABUL: Afghanistan’s election commission conceded its failure to release initial presidential poll results set for Saturday and gave no new deadline for the vote which was marred by Taliban attacks and irregularities.
The presidential poll on Sept. 28 saw the lowest turnout of any elections in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ousting.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, the chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons, particularly slowness in entering data on to the server, for missing the timetable.
“Regrettably, the commission due to technical issues and for the sake of transparency could not announce the presidential election initial poll results,” she said in a brief announcement.
Without naming any camp, Nuristani also said: “A number of observers of election sides (camps) illegally are disrupting the process of elections.” She did not elaborate.
Nuristani said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week.
The delay is another blow for the vote that has been twice delayed to due to the government’s mismanagement and meetings between the US and the Taliban, which eventually collapsed last month after President Donald Trump declared the talks “dead.”
It further adds to political instability in Afghanistan, which has seen decades of conflict and foreign intervention and faced ethnic divides in recent years.
Both front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have said that they expect to win.
The pair have been sharing power in Afghanistan as part of a US-brokered deal following the fraudulent polls of 2014.
The IEC has invalidated more than 500,000 votes because they were not conducted through biometric devices, bought for the vote from overseas to minimize the level of cheating in last month’s polls.
Officials of the commission said that nearly 1.8 million votes were considered clean and it was not clear what sort of impact the turnout would have on the legitimacy of the polls and the future government, whose main task will be to resume stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
They said that the slowness of data entry on to the server was one of the technical reasons for the delay in releasing initial poll results.
Yousuf Rashid, a senior official from an election watchdog group, described the delay as a “weakness of mismanagement,” while several lawmakers chided IEC for poor performance.
Abdul Satar Saadat, a former senior leader of an electoral body, told Arab News: “The delay showed IEC’s focus was on transparency” and that should be regarded as a sign that it took the issue of discarding fraudulent votes seriously.