The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday amid high drama. The Opposition staged a walkout during the vote on its motion to send the legislation for scrutiny by a Select Committee, accusing the government of trying to sabotage the vote.
The Bill, cleared by the Lok Sabha on Monday, seeks to bring in changes involving the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners in the States and at the Centre.
The Opposition motion was defeated 75 to 117 in favour of the government. This is a rare occasion in the Rajya Sabha that an Opposition motion was defeated. The BJP-led NDA is slowly inching towards a majority in the Upper House.
The ruckus began when CPI(M) member Elamaram Kareem accused BJP MP C.M. Ramesh of collecting the ballot papers from other members, instead of allowing the marshals to do so. Mr. Ramesh had recently switched to the BJP from the TDP.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Kareem said he first heard Mr. Ramesh instructing TDP MP Thota Seetarama Lakshmi, who sits next to him, on how to vote.
“Once the ballot papers were distributed, Mr. Ramesh came down to collect her ballot. He also had other ballot papers with him. It is not a member’s job to collect the ballot papers — it is for the marshals to do so. That is when I protested and drew the attention of the House to what was blatantly wrong,” Mr. Kareem said.
The other Opposition members informed Deputy Chairman Harivansh, who was in the chair, of the wrongdoing and demanded a re-poll. The Chair, however, did not respond to the allegations. At this, Opposition members stormed into the well, raising slogans.
Angry Opposition leaders then staged a walk out. In absence of the Opposition, Mr. Harivansh announced the result of the ballot. The Bill was then passed by a voice vote.
“What happened today is the ultimate insult to the dignity of the Rajya Sabha. The government has acted with blatant disregard of the traditions and through this undermined the very sanctity of the vote. They may have managed the number but it’s a moral defeat,” Congress MP and Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma told The Hindu .
He also accused the Union ministers of openly intimidating regional parties to vote for the government.
The debate on the bill started on a sore note with Deputy Chairman Harivansh refusing to put the opposition motion to refer the legislation to a Select Committee to vote. Instead he initiated the debate on the Bill.
Opposition members stormed into the Well of the House and raised slogans in protest. Amidst slogans, the BJP members initiated the debate.
Though the motion to refer the Bill to a select committee was signed by Biju Janata Dal and Telangana Rashtra Samiti members, the two parties spoke in support of the Bill during the debate. When the Opposition sensed this change of stance, it decided to call off the protest and join the debate.
Congress MP Jairam Ramesh alleged that legislation is an effort to kill the RTI Act as an act of revenge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been put in an embarrassing position by queries often, including the case seeking information in the educational qualifications of Mr Modi.
Speaking at the conclusion of the debate Minister for Department of Personnel and Training Jitender Singh said the amendment was brought without any motivation and was in good faith.
This, he said, will lead to institutionalisation of the CIC and strengthen the provision of RTI Act.