Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does Pranab Mukherjee misuse constitutional powers for private reasons not for public good

The dust has not yet settled around Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar, but the cloak of silence that surrounds ministerial girlfriends and cronies seems to be coming apart. The Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad Edition, said: “A spate of babu heads will roll, but largely those in minor services but with major loyalties to mantris who matter… Though nobody is saying anything directly, it looks like one of the possible targets of this draconian measure is Omita Paul. Currently Ms Paul is on the personal staff of the most senior of ministers, Pranab babu.”

Read Deccan Herald article dated 18th April:

Mrs Omita Paul, an officer of the IIS (Indian Information Service) cadre, has been on Pranab Mukherjee’s personal staff for the past 30 years, through all his successive postings, including various ministries and the Planning Commission. The only time when she served on the Information & Broadcasting Ministry is when Mr Mukherjee was not in power.

Pranab Mukherjee was able to ensure Omita Paul’s appointment as CIC on the eve of general elections in 2009 thanks to the Prime Ministerial committee’s pliability, besides the lack of transparency of the selection process. Read the complete & unabridged story here: http://www.box.net/shared/yxy898b9re

Armed with documents procured under Right to Information, Girish Mittal & Krishnaraj Rao filed a complaint with Election Commission of India (ECI): http://www.box.net/shared/13lfm7il7h
ECI’s reply ( http://www.box.net/shared/q0vn7yzy3g ), signed by Under Secretary K.N. Bhar, said: 'I am directed to state that there was no violation of the model code of conduct on appointment of Omita Paul as central information commissioner as appointment of central information commissioner or information commissioner is governed by the statutory provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.’ To understand this reply in its context, it helps to remember that Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla is widely believed to be a Congress sympathizer.

WHAT MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT STATES: Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct specifies: “From the time elections are announced by the Commission, Ministers and other authorities shall not make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the party in power”. Q 52 of FAQs also clarifies that such appointments must be deferred till the completion of elections. 
Model Code of Conduct & FAQs: http://www.box.net/shared/5m7n145hyo
DOES ANY STATUTORY PROVISION OF RTI ACT EXEMPT CIC’S APPOINTMENT FROM CODE OF CONDUCT? Provisions relating to appointment of Central Information Commissioners are highlighted. RTI Act: http://www.box.net/shared/i2qbrtqjrf

LEGAL OPINION: IS ELECTION COMMISSION’S CONTENTION MAINTAINABLE? IS THIS NOT A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT? If this reply is legally maintainable, then, from a layman’s point of view, it appears that: (1) All politicians may appoint their favourite people as information commissioners at the time of elections! And (2) Not only information commissioners -- any other "statutory appointments" such as those of Human Rights Commissioners under other Acts and statutes, are also allowed! It can lead to a free-for-all. Constitutional expert and Supreme Court advocate M L Lahoty disagrees with the stand taken by the ECI. 'I entirely disagree with this, and there is no question of such appointment being ousted from the model code of conduct,' Lahoty recently told IANS. 'It is well known that during the enforcement of model code of conduct, no appointment, that too for a senior and sensitive post like this (information commissioner) can take place without the consent and approval from the Election Commission, and this is the general rule under the guidelines of the Supreme Court,' he said.

Report by:
Krishnaraj Rao

FOOTNOTE 1: Summary of Progression of events:
The below events make it clear that Mrs Paul was appointed not for public good but for a private reason. Approaching the Lok Sabha elections in May ‘09, Pranab-babu was worried about what would happen to his friend when he was no long a minister. He wanted to park her in a safe post for five years, just in case UPA and/or he lost the elections and failed to return to power. So one of his last acts as External Affairs Minister was to ensure her safety by making her CIC, where she was protected from pulls and pressures of any politician or bureaucrat, and virtually impossible to dismiss!
After 1980, wherever Pranab Babu wielded any governmental authority, Mrs Paul was always there, without fail. The eight-year stretch between 1996 and 2004 when Pranab-babu was out of power must have been a difficult and emotionally draining period. Mrs Paul jumped four jobs and took voluntary retirement from government service in 2002. But they outlasted this difficult period, and then it was back to business-as-usual after 2004. Only, now instead of being “Officer on Special Duty (OSD)”, Mrs Paul would be Pranab Babu’s “Advisor”.

Look at Pranab & Omita’s careers together:
1) Pranab – Commerce Minister Jan 1980 to Jan 1982.
Mrs Paul -- Under Secretary of Commerce Feb ‘79 to Dec ‘82

2) Pranab -- Finance Minister Jan ‘82 to Dec ‘84
Mrs Paul – Director of Public Relations Finance Ministry Jan ‘83 to June ‘84

3) Pranab – Deputy Chairman Planning Commission June ‘91 to May ‘96
Mrs Paul -- Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Planning Commission June ‘91 to May ‘96

4) Pranab -- Commerce Minister Jan ‘93 to Feb ‘95
Mrs Paul -- OSD to Commerce Minister May ‘92 to Jan ‘95

5) Pranab – External Affairs Minister Feb ‘95 to May ‘96
Mrs Paul -- OSD to External Affairs Minister, Jan ‘95 to May ‘96

6) Pranab -- Defence Minister May 2004 to ‘06, and External Affairs Minister 2006 to May ‘09
Mrs Paul -- Advisor to Minister of Defence & External Affairs & Finance Nov 2004 to May ‘09

7) Elections were declared in March 2009. By the last week of March, it became widely known that Mrs Paul was one of the three contenders for the post of a new CIC to be appointed. Aruna Roy and others protested, but bulldozing all the opposition, the government completed the selection.

8) Lok Sabha Elections were held from 16th April to 13th May ’09.
On 13th May, Mrs Paul was administered oath as CIC.

9) 14th Lok Sabha was dissolved on 18th May.
On 18th May, Mrs Paul started attending office, prepared to face the worst if her friend did not return to power.

10) Pranab Mukherjee became Finance Minister on 23rd May.
Mrs Paul resigned her CIC’s on 26th June, but was appointed as Finance Minister’s Advisor the previous day.

On the eve of the General elections in 2009, Mrs Omita Paul was selected and appointed as a Central Information Commissioner. The Code of Conduct period was in force from March 2 to May 28. Mrs Paul’s selection procedure began on April 4, and she occupied the CIC’s office on May 13 – the day of the final phase of the elections. It is evident this appointment was done to give Mrs Paul an assured government position in case the Congress Party failed to return to power. After the elections however, Mrs Paul resigned from her position as CIC on June 26, a day after she was appointed as Advisor to Finance Ministry under Pranab Mukherjee. 
Scans of relevant papers from DOPT: http://www.box.net/shared/nt0n6p0vif

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