Right to Information
Govt waiting for security clearance on CIC shortlist
Meanwhile, leading RTI activists have demanded making public, the names of the selected candidates; making the selection process time bound and appointing the senior most Information Commissioner, as the CIC, in the interim
 
In the continuing procrastination in the appointment of the Chief Central Information Commissioner (CCIC), the Additional Solicitor General told the Delhi High Court on 21st May that candidates have been shortlisted for the post, including those for Information Commissioners (ICs) but the government is awaiting clearance from vigilance and Intelligence Bureau. This was a sequel to the Delhi High Court directing the government to hasten the process of these appointments. The post of CCIC is vacant since 22 August 2014.
 
While the Delhi High Court has reserved the order on Thursday, several leading RTI activists have intervened in the petition have demanded making the entire process transparent by making public, the names of the selected candidates; making the selection process, time bound and; appointing the senior most Information Commissioner, as the CIC, in the interim period. The original petition was filed by Commodore Lokesh Batra, Subhash Chandra Agrawal and RK Jain. They were represented by noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
 
RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri filed an intervention on similar demands as the original petitioners, stating that the objective was to ensure smooth functioning of the Commission. In a press statement issued on Thursday, they stated, “the intervention was filed with the prayer that the powers of the Chief be vested in the senior most Information Commissioner pending the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner, to ensure that the Commission functions smoothly in the interim. Further, the intervention sought the Court’s directions to ensure that a transparent method be adopted to select the ICs and also ensure that all records of deliberations related to the appointment process be made public as per the provisions of the RTI Act.”
 
Following issues have been reiterated in the intervention:
The functioning of the Central Information Commission has been severely impaired for the last nine months, as it has been functioning without a Chief. The previous Chief retired on 22 August 2014 and till date the government has not appointed a successor. In the absence of the Chief, no person has been designated to perform the functions of the Chief including the administrative powers and the powers to delegate work between the different information commissioners. As a result, critical public authorities allocated to the Chief’s bench including Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Secretariat, Ministries of Power, Steel, Defence, HRD, President’s Secretariat, Parliament, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Supreme Court, All High Courts and Election Commission (ECI) have not been re-allocated to any Information Commissioner. The Commission has not disposed any appeals, complaints related to these public authorities ever since the post of the Chief fell vacant. This implies that for over nine months, critical authorities like the PMO have been effectively outside the ambit of the RTI law. The pendency before the Chief’s bench has doubled since the time the Chief retired in August 2014 and currently more than 15,000 appeals and complaints are pending before the bench of the Chief Information Commissioner
 
The financial powers delegated to the Chief Information Commissioner were first transferred to the Secretary (Personnel), Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and then to the Secretary, CIC, in March 2015 despite the Secretary, CIC highlighting in a communication that such transfer would be in violation of Section 12(4) of the RTI Act. In the intervention, the activists have sought that all powers of the Chief including the administrative, financial and power to delegate work be vested in the senior most commissioner in the interim to overcome the current problems plaguing the Commission. Further, allowing the work to be re-allocated among existing commissioners is critical to ensure that people can exercise  their fundamental right to access information from the public authorities currently allocated to the Chief' bench.
 
Information obtained under the RTI Act has revealed that the government has adopted a completely non-transparent and arbitrary process for appointing information commissioners including the Chief. In response to an RTI application seeking copies of the minutes of the meetings of the search committee set up to short-list candidates for appointment of the Chief, the government stated that “Minutes of meetings have not been recorded in the file”. Further, they even refused to divulge the names of people who attended the search committee meetings, stating “Since minutes have not been recorded in the file, undersigned is not aware as to who attended those meetings.” In another RTI application, the government admitted that no guidelines or criteria has been defined on the basis of which the search committee is short-listing candidates to send to the selection committee. As the search committee is functioning without a legal mandate and in the absence of records of its deliberation, it will be impossible to know how candidates were short listed, the activists have sought the court's intervention to ensure that the search committee is not allowed to arbitrarily weed out applicants and send a circumscribed list to the selection committee. 
 
Further, the interveners have also sought that all records of deliberations, including the criteria and basis of decision-making, related to short-listing and selection of Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners be properly recorded and made available to citizens in consonance with the provisions of the RTI Act. The lack of transparency in the appointment process will irrevocably impact the credibility of the CIC and also raises suspicions that the process might be subject to undue political influence.
 
 
Is the process of appointments really transparent?
 
As per the DoPT, the “search committee”, which is shortlisting the candidates for CIC and IC posts, can have its own modalities and is not bound by any rules to justify whether the candidate it selects it are transparent or not.
 
Commodore Lokesh Batra had proposed to Cabinet Secretary Cabinet Secretary Ajit Sheth of making the appointments of CIC and ICs transparent, suggesting the following:
(a) Number of Posts to be filled in case of ICs.
 
(b) The Methodology / Procedure/ Steps for the Selection Process.
 
 (c)  The ‘Criterion’ for shortlisting names of candidates (for inclusion of 02 names per panel) by the Search Committee, before placing them before the High-powered Selection Committee for final recommendation to the President.
 
(d) Details of Member of the Search/Screening Committee constituted under the Chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary.
 
(e) Measures taken to ensure candidates recommended by any person other than search committee are not considered by the Selection Committee.
 

To this, the DoPT has replied to the Cabinet Secretary thus (Batra procured this under RTI Act):

 
“The process of selection of IC/CIC is much more transparent than provided in the Act. Files relating to appointment are uploaded on the Website after selection process is over.
 
As regards, Criterion for shortlisting of candidates by the Search Committee, it is a high powered committee’ which cannot be guided by certain (fixed) rules to empanel persons of eminence belonging to varied fields.
 
“Search Committee” can always have its own modalities to justify a person who fits the role of guardian of transparency.
 

So far as issue of consideration by ‘Selection Committee’ of a person other than recommended by Search Committee, no such case has taken place so far. The apprehension of Mr. Batra is unfounded.

No action is required to be taken on the suggestions made by Mr. Batra.”

 
 
(Vinita Deshmukh 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”.)
 
 

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COMMENTS

Lokesh Batra

2 years ago

In my proposal to the Cabinet Secretary, Shri Ajit Seth for making the appointments of CIC and ICs transparent, the point (c)should read :

"The ‘Criterion’ for shortlisting names of candidates (for inclusion of 03 names per panel) by the Search Committee, before placing them before the High-powered Selection Committee for final recommendation to the President."

Probe on-the-run Goa lawmaker's Facebook photo change: Congress

On Friday, Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat alleged that the former archives and archaeology minister posted a new Facebook profile photo on Thursday night

 

The Congress has asked the police to trace convicted former Goa minister Francisco Pacheco, who has been dodging arrest for nearly a month-and-a-half, after he changed his Facebook profile photograph.
 
On Friday, Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat alleged that the former archives and archaeology minister posted a new Facebook profile photo on Thursday night.
 
Kamat has asked the state police to contact Facebook to track down the location and Internet Protocol (IP) address that was used to update the picture.
 
"Police has to get in touch with Facebook to track him down now. This (photo) shows there is lack of political will to arrest the lawmaker who is now using the social media to flaunt himself while on the run," Kamat said.
 
The photo shows a smiling Pacheco wearing a black casual shirt, with a smart phone, sitting with an empty glass with a drink stirrer in it.
 
Pacheco was a minister in the BJP-led coalition government until he was forced to resign when the Supreme Court upheld the Bombay High Court order sentencing him to six months imprisonment and a fine.
 
Pacheco is the supremo of the Goa Vikas Party, which is a coalition partner in the ruling BJP-led alliance government and has two MLAs in the state legislative assembly, including Pacheco.
 
Pacheco, who has a history of criminal cases against him ranging from extortion, assault, bigamy, money laundering and human trafficking, loan default, has been missing since April 9 this year.
 
He has failed to pay heed to an order asking him to surrender, and police have been unable to serve the arrest warrant issued against him. A trial court is currently hearing a petition which seeks to term the minister as an absconder.
 
A local court had also issued a warrant to search 10, Akbar Road, the official residence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for Pacheco, but the order was stayed after the state government appealed against the order.
 
A senior police official who is part of a police team to trace Pacheco said they were aware of the Facebook profile photo update and that "necessary steps were being taken" to serve the arrest warrant on the legislator.

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