While Information Commissioner Ravindra Jadhav entrenches himself as Pune division’s IC, it is important to understand why appointments in Maharashtra are different from any other state in India
Information Commissioner (IC) Ravindra Jadhav holds the Pune division post as of Monday. The board with his name etched on it and Right to Information (RTI) applicants, who come for hearings of their second appeals, is a picture of normalcy. However, the undercurrent of autocracy that lies in the way this seat was gifted to Jadhav speaks of a danger to the sanctity of appointments of Information Commissioners, if one goes by the rules implemented for Maharashtra.
So, what is wrong if Ratnakar Gaikwad transfers Ravindra Jadhav from one commission to another? Let us examine.
Unlike any other state in India, wherein the State Information Commission and entire strength of ICs is concentrated only at one particular city, that is the capital of the relevant State, Maharashtra’s formula is completely different.
When the RTI Act was implemented in 2005, Maharashtra Government decided upon setting up Information Commissions at different regions as a gesture of citizen convenience. Meaning, if you are a Nagpur resident and have filed a second appeal, you do not have to travel the distance to Mumbai, but you have the privilege of having an IC in Nagpur itself, which will conduct the hearing.
Maharashtra has seven benches of Information Commissions located in Pune, Greater Mumbai, Konkan, Amravati, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagpur, and the State Chief Information Commission, which is in Mumbai. Thus, appointments of ICs in Maharashtra are not general in nature. They are region-specific and bench specific. In case a transfer has to be made, the entire process of recommendation by the High Powered Committee (HPC) and a signature by the appointing authority, the Governor, is mandatory.
Therefore, despite Section 14 stating "The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the State Information Commission shall vest in the State Chief Information Commissioner who shall be assisted by the State Information Commissioners and may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the State Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act’’, in Maharashtra the SCIC cannot trample or encroach on the Governor’s authority to appoint an information commissioner.
To reiterate, as per the norms, the Governor is the only authority to appoint Information Commissioners after a High Powered Committee (HPC) comprising the Chief Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly and Deputy Chief Minister recommends a name for the post. This clearly means, that the Chief State Information Commissioner (SCIC) of Maharashtra cannot be the authority to transfer an IC from one region to another, as per his whims and fancies. In fact, in a letter to the state government dated 28 November 2013, SCIC Gaiwad had brought to its notice, that vacancies of Information Commissioners in Amravati, Nagpur, Brihan Mumbai and Konkan need to be filled, which means he has been abiding by the rules that are exclusive to Maharashtra. So, why did he flout them in the case of Jadhav? And at whose behest?
In a trail mail started by RTI activist Sarbhajit Sen who feels the issue is being blown out of proportion, Lt Gen SCN Jatar (retd), a noted RTI activist has written, “Nowhere could I spot even by remote inference that someone down the line can change the place of posting once the appointing authority has specifically mentioned it in the appointment letter. Else, the letter would have read differently without giving the place of posting of the IC as is done in the Services. Promotion or first appointment and postings are never mixed up in good business rules.”
“In the industry as well as in government, the authority that can appoint and those that can issue postings are not always the same. By no stretch of imagination can the provision 'the general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the State Information Commission shall vest in the State Chief Information Commissioner' mean that the CIC is empowered to move around ICs at his whim and fancy. In fact, postings of senior officers are always at a higher level than the immediate boss. Else, there would have been a separate clause to that effect or a word saying that 'the officer is being posted initially at so and so place and further postings would be at the discretion of the CIC in public interest',” he said.
RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who has vociferously raised this issue says, “The SCIC Ratnakar Gaikwad, while transferring three ICs last year had defied even the legal opinion of Advocate General (AG) that 'A State Information Commissioner cannot be transferred unless he resigns from his present posting'.’ Jadhav has not resigned – he has been simply transferred.”
In a letter to the Governor last year, Kumbhar had stated, “This was revealed after an official copy of AG's report in a similar case few years back was obtained. AG's report about the transfer clearly states that even if the high power committee (comprising Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister & Leader of Opposition in Vidhansabha) decides to recommend to the Governor transfer on new posting for an SIC, his resignation from his present posting is essential. Even when this report is in the records of the General Administration Department and State Information Commission, CIC Gaikwad ordered transfers of SIC, MH Shah from Nasik to Pune, Bhaskar Patil from Amravati to Nagpur and PW Patil from Nagpur to Nasik in June 2012 within a week after taking over as CIC.”
Since there is no power vested in state CIC for such transfers in RTI Act 2005, Vijay Kumbhar had written to the Governor to revoke these illegal transfers.
“The legal opinion in this report has confirmed his contention that transfers of SIC's by SCIC Gaikwad were illegal. As per the report in 2007-08, the SIC Nagpur Vilas Patil had requested to the High Power Committee for his transfers to Nasik. The Committee under the chairmanship of Chief Minister accepted his request and sent recommendation of his transfer to the Governor. However the Governor's office observed that there was no provision of SIC's transfers in RTI Act, 2005 and ordered for the opinion of law and judiciary department and the AG.”
In his report submitted to the Government on 14 February 2008 the AG states, 'Minutes of the high power committee clearly indicate a specific recommendation of commissioner for a specific reason. Committee can change the decision provided he (Vilas Patil) resigns from his present post. His appointment would be a fresh appointment requiring his resignation from his post at Nagpur. Neither an amendment nor a partial notification of the extant notification would serve the purpose.”
Following this complication Patil withdrew his request for transfer.
As per the minutes of the HPC, each of these three SIC's had been recommended for a specific region by the committee and the appointment letters signed by the Chief Secretary also indicate their postings. It is clear that even the HPC cannot transfer an SIC, then how can state CIC order and execute such transfers? The State CIC has clearly defied all authorities and procedures.
Let us for a minute say these legal technicalities are irrelevant. Then why not get them out of the way through an official process? Until such time, no one can be above law, and therefore, it will continue to be an issue.
is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)