Monday, February 15, 2010

DoPT has no say in Appointment of Information Commissioners, claims Secretary

New Delhi

“Absolutely every decision pertaining to the selection of Central Information Commissioners (CICs) is made by the Selection Committee headed by the Prime Minister,” said Mr Shantanu Consul, Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Govt of India. In a meeting with eight RTI activists from six states here on Friday, 12th February, Mr Consul claimed ignorance of how the name of his predecessor, then DoPT Secretary Satyananda Mishra, had appeared in the short-list of candidates that DoPT had presented to the Committee in July 2008, culminating in his appointment.

DoPT officials present at the meeting included Additional Secretary S.K. Sarkar, Joint Secretary C.B. Paliwal, Deputy Secretary Anuradha Chagti, and K.G. Verma, Director in-charge of RTI.
The eight activists, led by Madhav Vishnubhatta from Chennai, made a formal representation regarding the need for introducing ethical and transparent norms for CIC selections. The representation urged Mr Consul, as head of the primary rule-making body and custodian of the Right to Information Act 2005, to adhere to its own stated guidelines for direct recruitments, by issuing circulars and advertisements to invite applications from all over the country. Pointing out that the RTI Act specified that persons from all walks of life should be appointed as CICs, Bimal Khemani, a delegate from Uttar Pradesh, asked why, in a country of 1.1 billion, most CICs were connected to Dilli durbar.

The selection of CICs has been questionable since the seeming self-selection of Mr A N Tiwari as one of the first Information Commissioners of the country in October 2005, while he himself was the DoPT Secretary. The case that clearly established the murkiness in the process of CIC selections was that of Mrs Omita Paul. Mrs Paul, advisor to Cabinet Minister Pranab Mukherjee, was hurriedly selected as CIC one week before the General Elections, even while the Election Code of Conduct was in force. After the UPA government returned to power, she immediately resigned to rejoin the government as advisor to Mr Pranab Mukherjee the same day.

Other members of the activists’ delegation were Vishwas Bhamburkar from Ahmedabad, Vinod Varshney from Aligarh (UP), Dr Arun Agrawal from Gurgaon (Haryana), Rakesh Agarwal and Rasheed Qureshi from New Delhi, and Krishnaraj Rao from Mumbai.

When the delegation members repeatedly pleaded with him to at least publicly disclose the procedures adopted so far for appointing commissioners, as mandated by Section 4 of RTI Act, Mr Consul refused to be drawn into the issue, and concluded that he would refer all suggestions to the Selection Committee, which comes into existence only at the time of appointments, and is promptly disbanded thereafter.

Asked whether he would himself become Information Commissioner soon, Mr Consul remained non-committal, and urged the activists not to be overly suspicious on matters like RTI amendment and CIC appointments.

Representation to DoPT secretary:

Photo of 8 RTI activists

The mysterious case of Mrs. Omita Paul:

Past instances of Malpractices in CICs Selection:

DoPT’s Guidelines for Selection 1:

DoPT’s Guidelines for Selection 2:

Report by:
Krishnaraj Rao

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