Thursday, December 03, 2009

MID-DAY: Manmohan gets a legal notice on CIC Selection

Delhi, India

Right To Information (RTI) activists spare no one. Not even the Prime Minister. A group of RTI activists has sent a legal notice to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Government of India regarding the appointment of the new chief information commissioner to head the Central Information Commission (CIC), the nodal agency for implementation of the RTI Act. Activists from across the country have been demanding the appointment of a non-bureaucrat to the post.

In the legal notice, the activists have demanded the provisions and procedures for selecting the CIC chief should be made public. They want records of previous selections too and have also urged the government to put the appointment of the new chief on hold till the guidelines are revealed.

The notice, sent on November 26, by Abdul Rasheed Quereshi, a Supreme Court advocate, says the Section 4 of RTI Act, 2005, casts an obligation upon the public authority to disclose all norms, procedures and records that may facilitate the right to information under this act. "Section 4(1)(b)(iii) mandates that the public authority shall publish within 120 days from the enactment of this Act,- the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability. Section 4(1)(b)(iv) further mandates that the public authority shall publish the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions," the letter states.

The RTI activists say as the PMO, the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension (DoPT) appoint the CIC commissioner, they are duty bound to publish all relevant facts and details of the procedure pertaining to previous selections of CIC heads and the ongoing selection process of the next chief.

Krishna Rao, one of the petitioners from Mumbai, said, "It is the lack of transparency on the part of the government. The RTI Act is an important instrument empowering citizens of India to make public authorities accountable. The office of the CIC is at the helm of this act. It is therefore expedient and of vital importance that the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability for selecting CICs is put up on the website of the organisation."

The activists allege the government is biased in selecting the CIC heads.

"A close look at the career details and appointment dates of CIC commissioners reveals the truth: the post is yours if you are an IAS officer aged around 60, and have worked with the PMO, DoPT or Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Officer from other cadres like IPS may also be considered. Civil society members, eminent or otherwise are least preferred," said Rao.

The Supreme Court lawyer, who has sent the letter, says he will move the Delhi High Court too if the PMO doesn't reply. 

"We have sought a response within one week from the receipt of this notice. We have not yet received any response from any of the officials. We want dates and details of various rounds of selection and appointment held between October 2005 and the current date. By next week, we are hoping to file a petition in the Delhi High Court regarding this," Qureshi said.

Choosing the right head 
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met Opposition leader LK Advani and Law Minister Veerappa Moily to finalise the name of the new Chief Information Commissioner.

While there is no official confirmation about the candidates shortlisted for the post, several names, including those of Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar, environmentalist Shekhar Singh and Information Commissioner A N Tiwari are doing rounds.

Several RTI activists are trying to make the process more transparent.

High Court said this...
On November 18, while hearing a PIL seeking a direction to the government to appoint a non-bureaucrat to the post of CIC commissioner, the Delhi High Court had declined to give directions to the government to change the procedure for appointment, saying it was not in its jurisdiction to lay down criteria in this regard. 

The bench also expressed inability to pass such an order, saying, "Such changes cannot be initiated by the judiciary. The law was framed after a mass movement was initiated for it. The same movement should be initiated to bring an amendment. RTI activists should mobilise the larger civil society to build an opinion on the issue."

The Other Side
When MiD DAY contacted PMO media advisor Harish Khare, he refused to comment on the subject.

Amit Singh
Mid Day

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