So, KL Bishnoi, former Director General of Police, Sambhaji Sarkunde, former IAS officer and Dilip Dharurkar, journalist from Aurangabad, have been appointed State Information Commissioners of Maharashtra last week.
While the state government is taking credit of filling up these vacancies that were vacant for two years, the truth is their selections violate several norms set for such appointments.
Continuing with its audacity in violating norms laid down for selection of information commissioners in the Right to Information (RTI) Act, as accepted by the Supreme Court in the revised petition in the Namit Sharma case and directives by the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT), the state government has appointed the three information commissioners in complete secrecy.
Thanks to lack of transparency, we do not know whether they have a clean chit from the intelligence agencies as regards their service record and whether they qualify as “persons of eminence” in their respective field. The following are the reasons why the three appointments can be termed as null and void.
No advertisement was issued calling for applications for the post of State Information Commissioners.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had issued a circular in 2014 which stated that “(the) Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has directed that for the sake of consistency and uniformity in approach, the procedure for selection of information commissioner, which includes amongst other things advertising the post and shortlisting by a search committee may be adopted for appointment to the post of Chief Information Commissioner as well. Such short listed panel may then be placed before the selection committee for its consideration.”
The persons chosen are not of ‘eminence’ in their particular fields
In its revised petition in the Supreme Court in 12 September 2012, in the Namit Sharma judgment case, the following submission was made by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), which was accepted.
It stated, “Retired bureaucrats do not qualify for description as ‘persons of eminence in public life’ as the relevant civil service conduct rules prevent them from taking an active part in public life while being in government service. So, serious efforts must be made to appoint candidates with specialised knowledge and experience in the fields mentioned in Section 12(5) and 15(5) of the RTI Act.”
The Supreme Court, in this judgment, also said:
“We direct that only persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in the fields mentioned in Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act be considered for appointment as Information Commissioner and Chief Information Commissioner.
“We further direct that persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in all the fields mentioned in Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act, namely, law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance, be considered by the Committees under Sections 12(3) and 15(3) of the Act for appointment as Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioners.”
State government completely violated directions of the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT)
The MAT order dated 16 April 2015 had directed the chief secretary of Maharashtra to frame Rules for the selection of the post of State Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners within eight weeks of the order, the deadline of which was 15 June 2015. Besides, it has made some strong observations on the prejudiced and casual manner in which the High-Powered Committee that is responsible for selecting information commissioners, functions.
Following are the main points from the MAT order:
These posts must be publicised and there should be transparency in appointments of information commissioners.
There is an urgent need to make rules consistent with the provisions of Right To Information Act, 2005, especially Section 15, for selections to the posts of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners. It is desirable to have the rules in place much before the next selection is taken up for consideration by the High Powered Committee under the Information Act. The directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Namit Sharma’s case (reviews judgment) be carefully perused and implemented.
It will be within the discretion of the Committee to fix the eligibility criteria for the said posts. But there again, the provisions of the Information Act may be strictly followed and it should be ensured that the legislative mandate to have eminent persons from all the various disciplines like Law, Science and Technology etc. should be given full scope
The criteria should be duly publicised well in advance before the selection process begins. Sufficiency and mode of publicity of the said criteria will be within the discretion of the Committee
The selection process must be transparent and definitive without any scope for apprehension of partiality and favouritism. There must be a definite time frame from the commencement of the said process till its conclusion.
The Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, is requested to bring this judgment of the notice of the Hon’ble Chairman and Hon’ble members of the Committee for information and action. …the Chief Secretary of the Government of Maharashtra may report compliance herewith within eight weeks from today (16 April 2015).”
This hard-hitting order from the MAT was a sequel to the complaint filed by Ahmednagar resident John Kharat who had also applied for the post of Information Commissioner. He had challenged the selection of the SCIC as well as Information Commissioners PW Patil (Nagpur), DB Deshpande (Aurangabad) and MS Shah (Nashik) in 2010.
Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar says, “How did these three potential candidates for the post of information commissioners come to know that the state government has asked for applications, which is the basic criteria for selection of information commissioners?”
Here is the GR issued by the Maharashtra government appointing three information commissioners under the RTI Act…
(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”.)