Friday, July 02, 2010

RTI replies from PMO & DoPT betray politics in Information Commissioners’ selection

22 Information Commissioners from across the country will retire in the next few months. Out of them, 11 are Chief Information Commissioners.

So many posts will fall vacant. What should be the process of their appointment? The law is silent on that. Barring prescribing the composition of a selection committee (consisting of PM, Leader of Opposition and one Cabinet Minister), the law does not lay down the procedure that this committee should follow to invite names and process them.

Documents obtained under RTI from DOPT and PMO by Arvind Kejriwal reveal how intense lobbying takes place before every appointment to the posts of Central Information Commissioners.

Ravi Shankar Singh is a journalist with The Tribune. His name was recommended by none other than Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Chief Minister of Haryana himself through a personal letter written to the Prime Minister. Hooda writes – “He is well known to me for the last more than twenty years. … I would be highly obliged if you kindly consider his name for the post of Deputy Information Commission in the Central Information Commission.”

Ravi Shankar’s name was also recommended by Kumari Selja, Minister of State and two MPs namely Naveen Jindal and Dr Karan Singh.

Likewise, 7 MPs recommended the name of Dr Krishna Kabir Anthony.

Interestingly, neither Ravi Shankar nor Dr Anthony’s names were even put up to the selection committee, which comprises of Prime Minsiter, Leader of Opposition and a Cabinet Minister.

Before every set of appointments, the word spreads around. Several people either apply themselves or are recommended by others. Recommendations are found to have been made by very influential people including Chief Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, MPs, Supreme Court Bar Council etc.

The names for selection are put up to selection committee through an agenda note. The agenda note is prepared by DOPT. However, none of these recommendations or applications was ever put up to the selection committee.

Interestingly, the names which made it to agenda note and who were finally selected, never applied nor were they ever recommended by anyone, according to records provided by DOPT and PMO.

For instance, in August 2008, the selection committee cleared the names of four people in its meeting on 27th August 2008, namely Annapurna Dixit, M L Sharma, S N Mishra and Shailesh Gandhi. Before this meeting, the following applications/recommendations were received by the PMO and DOPT:

· President of Bar Council of India recommended the name of Sudhanshu Ranjan (a journalist) to the Prime Minister and DOPT.
· 7 MPs names, Nakul Das Rai (MP), Shivanand Tiwari (MP), Sukhdeo Paswan (MP), Rajniti Prasad (MP), Ganesh Prasad Singh (MP), Lalhming Lian (MP) and Alok Kumar Mehta (MP) recommended the name of Dr Krishna Kabir Anthony.
· Bhupinder Singh Hooda, CM Haryana, Naveen Jindal (MP), Dr Karan Singh (MP) and Kumari Selja, MOS recommended the name of Ravi Shankar Singh, a journalist

However, the agenda note prepared by DOPT did not contain any of the above names. The agenda note was prepared by S K Sarkar, the then Joint Secretary in DOPT. He included the name of his own boss S N Mishra (the then DOPT Secretary), and the names of Mrs Annapurna Dixit, Ashok K Mohapatra, R B Shreekumar, M L Sharma and Shailesh Gandhi. Whereas Shailesh Gandhi’s name was proposed by several RTI activists through an open letter to the Government, but where did other names come from? According to records, none of them applied for these posts, nor were their names recommended by anyone. This means that something is happening outside the files. Who called up these people and asked them for their CVs? Why were only these people contacted?

Several questions arise. Firstly, how were the people like Ravi Shankar Singh, Sudhanshu Ranjan and Dr Krishna Kabir Anthony found unfit and not even put up to selection committee? Who did their assessment and on what basis? Who decided that these names should not be put up to the selection committee?

The agenda note is prepared by DOPT. Obviously someone in DOPT decided to reject these names. Does DOPT have these powers under RTI Act to reject names? No. DOPT merely acts as secretariat to the selection committee. It neither has the powers to reject anyone nor select anyone.

Next question is - how did the bio-datas of S N Mishra, Annapurna Dixit, Ashok Mohapatra, R B Shreekumar and M L Sharma make it to the file? How did these names make it to agenda note? How was it decided to include these names and not others?

It is surprising that the names recommended by MPs, Chief Ministers and Cabinet Ministers are not even put up to the selection committee. But some other names make it to agenda note.

Interestingly, S N Mishra was the then DOPT Secretary. All this was happening under his nose. He shamelessly includes his own name in the agenda note and excludes those of others.

It appears that the DOPT has become de-facto selection committee and selection committee provided in the law has been reduced to an endorsement committee. The selection committee merely endorses the names put up to it.

In its first meeting on 5th October 2005, 5 names were put up to selection committee and it cleared all the five names. In its next meeting on 27th August 2008, six names were put up and it cleared four of them. In the next meeting on 6th April 2009, only one name was put up and the same was cleared. In the meeting on 25th August 2009, four names were put up and it selected two of them. DOPT, by rejecting all names and presenting a very short list of names, creates a situation of fait accompli for the selection committee, wherein the committee almost endorses what is presented to them.

For instance, Omita Paul, who is known to be quite close to Pranab Mukherjee and has worked with him for many years, was working as Advisor to him before last Parliamentary elections. After the announcement of elections, the selection committee met specially on 6.4.09 to clear her name for the post of Information Commissioner. Only one name was presented to the selection committee and the committee cleared that name.

Interestingly, this was done in violation of model code of conduct. Though the Joint Secretary, in his notings, warned his seniors that model code of conduct was in operation and permission from Election Commission would be required, however, the permission was never sought. One wonders what was the hurry for appointing her? Omita joined on 13th May. Interestingly, as soon as UPA came to power, Omita resigned within a month on 26th June and went back and joined Pranab Mukherjee again.

What emerges from all this is that DOPT has become de facto selection or rejection committee. It rejects the names of all those who either apply or are recommended by others. It then prepares its own list of names (sources of which are unknown) and includes in this list, the names of its own bosses. The selection committee provided in RTI Act has been reduced to an endorsement committee of DOPT.

What does the law say? The law prescribes a selection committee consisting of the PM, Leader of Opposition and one Cabinet Minister. Then it says that the incumbent should be a person of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance. He should not be a Member of Parliament or Member of any Legislature or hold any other office of profit or connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.

The law does not provide for any procedure how nominations would be invited and how would they be processed. DOPT had a duty to make rules under section 27 of RTI Act to lay down procedures. However, DOPT has not made any rules so far.

Selection Committee meeting on 5th Oct 2005:

Who applied?

1. G C Srivastava, IAS (Retd) – he applied himself.
2. Shri Lakshmi Chand, IAS (Retd) - – he applied himself.
3. Shri R Ganesan, (IPoS:69), Secy & DG, Chairman, Postal Service Board, Department of Posts – he applied himself.
4. Shri G Mohal Kumar, (IPoS:69), Member (Personnel), Postal Service Board, Deptt of Posts – he applied himself.
5. Shri P R Devi Prasad (IES:82) – he applied himself.
6. Shri K Jaikumar, Dir (IT) in D/o AR&PG no specific post mentioned – he applied himself.
7. Rameshbhai’s name recommended by Nirmala Deshpande, MP to the PM
8. Smt Neena Ranjan, Secy, Ministry of Culture – she applied herself.
9. Prof Akhtarul Wasey (Dean, Jamia Milia Islamia)
10. Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu (trade union leader from Jharkhand)
11. Nripendra Mishra
12. Mohan Kanda (Chief Secretary to Government of AP)
13. Dinesh Chandra Gupta (former Finance Secretary)
14. Prof Dr B K Chandrashekhar (former Education Minister, Karnataka)
15. Akhtar Majeed (Dean, Hamdard University)

Names which were put up to the selection committee through agenda note:
(None of the above names were put up)

1. Wajahat Habibullah
2. Dr O P Kejariwal
3. A N Tiwari
4. Prof M M Ansari
5. Padma Balasubramanian

Names selected by Selection committee:

All the above five names were selected.

Selection Committee meeting on 27th August 2008:

Who applied?

1. Sudhanshu Ranjan (a journalist) recommended by the President of Bar Council of India to PM and DOPT
2. Dr Krishna Kabir Anthony recommended by Nakul Das Rai (MP), Shivanand Tiwari (MP), Sukhdeo Paswan (MP), Rajniti Prasad (MP), Ganesh Prasad Singh (MP), Lalhming Lian (MP) and Alok Kumar Mehta (MP)
3. Ravi Shankar Singh (a journalist with The Tribune) recommended by Sh Bhupinder Singh Hooda , CM Haryana; Naveen Jindal (MP); Dr Karan Singh (MP) and Kumari Selja, MOS

Names which were put up to the selection committee through agenda note:
(None of the above names were put up)

1. Mrs Annapurna Dixit
2. Ashok K Mohapatra
3. R B Shreekumar
4. M L Sharma
5. Shailesh Gandhi
6. S N Mishra

Names selected by Selection committee:

1. Shailesh Gandhi
2. S N Mishra
3. Annapurna Dixit
4. M L Sharma

Selection Committee meeting on 6th April 2009:

Who applied?

Meeting held suddenly. No one came to know about it. No names found on the file.

Names which were put up to the selection committee through agenda note:

1. Omita Paul

Names selected by Selection committee:

1. Omita Paul

Selection Committee meeting on 25th August 2009:

Who applied?

1. Smt Sushma Singh, Secretary (I&B) recommended by her own Minister Anand Sharma, MOS (External Affairs and I&B) to the PM.
2. Dr C V Ananda Bose recommended by Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs.
3. Saroj Bala, Member (R), CBDT directly applies herself.
4. Mr Choubey recommended by M Veerappa Moily. Mr Moily also writes to Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
5. Adm Pradeep Kaushiva recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
6. Lt Gen Mahajan recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
7. Amitav Tripathi recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
8. Neelam Deo recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
9. Maja Daruwala recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
10. Krishan M Sahni recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
11. Chitra Chopra recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
12. Suman Dubey recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
13. Ishtiaq Hussain recommended by Wajahat Habibullah
14. Sudhanshu Ranjan, a journalist recommended by Sadanand Singh, former Chairperson, Bihar Legislative Assembly. He writes both to Mrs Sonia Gandhi and to the PM.

Names which were put up to the selection committee through agenda note:

(Only Sushma Singh’s name was picked up from the above list. Why only Sushma Singh?)

1. Deepak Sandhu
2. Sushma Singh
3. Mahendra Kumavat
4. R P Agarwal

Names selected by Selection committee:

1. Deepak Sandhu
Sushma Singh

Report by:
Krishnaraj Rao

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