553 applicants for three posts of Information Commissioner!

While the post of Chief Information Commissioner under RTI lies vacant, 553 applicants, including bureaucrats, government officials, retired defence personnel and citizens are eying to grab one of the three new posts of Information Commissioner

 

Despite the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promising transparency in its election manifesto, the post of the Chief Information Commissioner under the Right to Information (RTI) Act has remained vacant for nearly 50 days. In the meanwhile, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has received 553 applications for three posts of Central Information Commissioners. These applications have come from government officers, former armed personnel and citizens.

The list of applicants includes names of former DoPT Secretary- Dr Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, Dr Anuradha Verma (this name had figured in the past as a shortlisted candidate), some RTI activists, journalists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), says RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra. Batra had filed an RTI application to know the details of applications received.

While the Chief Information Commission (CIC) is headless since 22nd August, waiting for the President and Prime Minister to install a new person at the helm, the DoPT had in February and July 2014 sought applications for the appointment of “more information commissioners in the CIC”, although it did not mention the number of vacancies at that point of time.

Delhi-based Batra requested information regarding the total number of applications received by the DoPT for Information Commissioners (IC) posts in the CIC, total number of vacancies of ICs required and the names of applicants who have applied for the IC posts.

 

See the entire list of 553 names below...

List of Applicants Applied for IC

 

In the meanwhile, RTI activists across the country are fuming over the Modi government’s lethargy in appointing a new Central Chief Information Commissioner (CCIC), who is crucial for transparency and informed citizenry. They have been questioning the use of filling up the information commissioners’ post without appointing the CCIC.

Batra, who has demanded an inspection of files which contain correspondence related to the post of the CCIC says, "The absence of 'Chief Information Commissioner' in the 'Central Information Commission' (CIC) is adversely affecting the functioning of the CIC because he is also responsible and accountable for administration and management of the Commission. Also, there is no provision in the act for "Officiating" or an “Acting Chief Information Commissioner.”
 
Section 12 (4) of the RTI Act, 2005 clearly says: "The general superintendence, direction and management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission shall vest in the Chief Information Commissioner who shall be assisted by the Information Commissioners and may exercise all such powers and do all such acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Central Information Commission autonomously without being subjected to directions by any other authority under this Act."

RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri have launched an online petition appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appoint a CIC at the earliest. The petition appeals to Modi to appoint a CIC immediately.
The appeal states:

 

You could sign the petition here.

While the union government is hiding behind the excuse of the absence of a leader of opposition, is it that the BJP has someone in mind and are waiting for him or her to retire? Like it happened in the case of Maharashtra when the post of the state chief information commissioner (SCIC) was left vacant for eight months until Ratnakar Gaikwad retired as chief secretary and then was appointed as SCIC!

(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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    Should NATGRID, the center of integrated intelligence information, be so secretive?
    NATGRID, born after 26/11 terror attack to centralise databases of several intelligence agencies, is out of the ambit of the RTI Act. Now that it will execute contracts and acquire property with taxpayer’s money, shouldn’t it come under RTI? 
     
    National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) developed by C-DAC Pune, is a centralised and integrated data base system to monitor details of a potential suspect through his database. These personal details are procured through banks, credit cards, internet, cell phones, immigration, motor vehicle licenses, National Crime Records Bureau, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and Income Tax (I-T) Department. 
     
    A group of central and state agencies, which collated the information and made it available at NATGRID, accesses these details. It has the ability to provide a complete profile of the suspect’s movements. The government agency called NATGRID has its headquarters in Delhi and was established post the 26/11 Mumbai Terror attack. It aims to nab Headley-like characters by accessing their personal details and nipping terror in the bud.
     
    However, NATGRID, since its inception in 2011 has been caught in a vortex of controversy. As per Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports, its chief executive Raghu Raman, was allegedly involved in personal and professional misconduct involving foreign nationals during his five year tenure because of which his contract was not renewed recently. Considering that he was paid a fat salary of Rs10 lakh odd per month (highest for any babu?) and has a team of 20 or more which is paid between Rs1 lakh to Rs2.5 lakh a month, it is expected that the citizen has the right to know about the public money that is being lavishly spent. 
     
    The current financial outlay is Rs1,000 crore for this project so should the public be kept in the dark? Newspapers have recently reported that very little has progressed since 2011 although 70 people have been appointed at various levels.
     
    In June 2011, as soon as NATGRID became operational, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government notified it as ‘exempt organisation’ under Section 24 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist and programme coordinator of National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI) says, “Even information provided by NATGRID to the central government is out of the RTI ambit under Section 24. Under RTI, it can only furnish information about allegations of human rights violation or allegations of corruption. Even this information has to be approved by the Central Information Commission.” 
     
    However, on 14 September 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a notification through the Official Gazette declaring the Director of NATGRID as an authority competent to execute contracts and assurances of property in the NATGRID on behalf of the President of India (See below).
     
     
    This implies that the Director’s duties are beyond issues of only security as he is now in-charge of executing contracts and therefore these areas come under the RTI Act. 
     
    Nayak says, “…the Gazette notification is clear indication of the fact that the MHA, under which NATGRID falls, thinks it fit to proactively disclose the decision taken for making the Director competent to enter into contracts and assurances on property. Technically, this is proactive disclosure of information for the purpose of Section 4 of the RTI Act.”
     
    “The argument for protecting national security concerns which such organisation deals with is valid no doubt, but Section 24 (of the RTI Act) amounts to overkill as it does not differentiate between non-sensitive information, which may be disclosed without harming any public interest and other kinds of information whose disclosure may be harmful to the public interest,” Nayak added. Thus appealing that NATGRID cannot be a closed secret and have the privilege of completely hiding all information.
     
    What is most curious though is the fact NATGRID does not even have a dedicated website. All other organisations that are exempt from RTI Act and are under the Ministry of Home Affairs have a website. Some examples include the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and so on which have put up information about their vision, mission and other activities. 
     
    According to Nayak, SSB discloses a wealth of information that falls under Section 4 of the RTI Act such as organisational structure, transfer policy, monthly list of achievements, including arrests and seizures made and believe it or not-the Immovable Property Returns of its senior level officers (since 2011). NATGRID and IB are the only organisations under the Home Ministry without dedicated websites. IB too discloses the total number of RTI applications it receives and the data is published in the annual report of the CIC. “Perhaps this is a calculated move not to provide any intelligence to the citizenry about such organisations,’’ Nayak said.
     
    Vappala Balachandran, columnist in The Sunday Guardian, writes about NATGRID in Wednesday’s column: “I am not sure that NATGRID will prevent incidents like 26/11, because the state police or different defence departments are not mentioned among the 10 ‘user agencies’. As a member of the state government appointed 26/11 enquiry committee, which, however, was not allowed to examine the Central agencies, it is my impression that intelligence pointers already available with some Central agencies were not communicated to the state government or the Navy and Coast Guard. How will NATGRID help if the agencies are not willing to share current intelligence? As for Headley's repeated visits, why did the Intelligence Bureau, which controls the computerised Bureau of Immigration, need NATGRID to tell them this information, which was already with them?”
     
    (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

    Mahesh S Bhatt

    5 years ago

    Sir I come from Cybersecurity background in Telecom & IT.

    This seems to be nothing but a government overt cover sham.

    Our data of IP addresses by Service Providers is non secure/breachable.With advanced IP morphing techniques/botnets NATGRID shall be only paper Tiger/sham.Government donot want to pay for expert Tech Security solutions.

    Next watch smart cities capturing citizens data for Financial tax purposes.

    Our politicians support Mafia/Kill whistle-blowers.

    Dawood Ibrahim is creation during Sharad Pawar CM's days,a smalltime Dongro goon.

    Today he is active agent BCCI match fixer & group of Politicians/Businessmen are fighting SC investigations Mudgal is working hardly.

    Each Political party has criminals which EC is unable to cleanse.

    There is doha Ram Chandra kahe giya siya se aisa Kalyug aaye ga.

    Raja aur Praja mein nis din hogi kichha taani.Choti Choti Bhaaliya Badi Badi Booraiyan.

    Happy Navratri/Dushera.bhat_mahesh

    Nagesh Kini

    5 years ago

    All these days the RBI had assumed the status of the 'holiest of the holy cows' with the divine right to deny any legitimate information and now there comes another entity. at this rate many more will follow suit and get away scot free with blue murder!

    SuchindranathAiyerS

    5 years ago

    There are two sides to the "secrecy" coin in matters of national security. The first is, of course, to walk off with other people's money without having to exercise the usual bag of tricks. The other is to avoid accountability and fundamental assessment of "fitness for purpose". This is true of all Indian "Governance" functions, but "security" provides a more rigorous excuse for "secrecy"

    Delhi HC upholds Rs25,000 penalty against Railway Board CPIO

    The HC dismissed the CPIO's petition at the admission stage itself against CIC's decision to impose a penalty of Rs25,000. This ruling is important because several times, public authorities have been found approaching courts at the drop of hat and at the cost of the tax payer

     

    In a landmark decision, the Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal filed by Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Railway Board against the decision of Central Information Commission (CIC) to impose maximum penalty of Rs25,000. The verdict is laudable, because the Court dismissed the petition at the admission stage itself.


    An official handling Right to Information (RTI) application cannot 'escape' his responsibility of answering queries by simply forwarding the application to other officials, the High Court ruled while upholding the penalty imposed by the CIC.


    I had filed an appeal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, before the CIC after the CPIO of Railway Board repeatedly denied providing information. The Commission held multiple hearings and in an exhaustive, reasoned order, directed the CPIO to provide information as well as imposed penalty on him on 11 March, 2013. The CPIO, knowing very well that there is no provision in RTI Act, 2005 to review order, approached the CIC to review its own order. The review was denied by CIC vide its letter dated 11 April 2014.
    The CPIO of Railway Board then approached Delhi High Court, which upheld the decision of CIC on 12 September 2014. Few important legal points are settled by this decision of Delhi High Court:


    (a)  CIC does not have powers to review its own decisions.


    (b) Section 6(3) of the RTI Act cannot be read to mean that the responsibility of a CPIO is only limited to forwarding the applications to different departments or offices.

     

    Forwarding an application by a public authority to another public authority is not the same as a Public Information Officer (PIO) of a public authority arranging or sourcing information from within its own organisation. The PIO cannot escape his responsibility to provide information by simply stating that the queries were forwarded to other officials.


    (c) It is not necessary that the penalty be imposed by the CIC only while considering an appeal; penalty can also be imposed by the CIC if on inquiry made pursuant to a complaint, it is found that a CPIO has not furnished the information within stipulated time or has knowingly given incorrect or incomplete information.


    According to the section 6(3) of RTI Act, if a CPIO receives an application, the subject matter of which is more closely related to another public authority, he must transfer the application or the portion of it to the concerned authority within five days of receiving the application.

    However, when the matter is concerning their own public authority, CPIOs can seek help of fellow officers under section 5(4) of the RTI Act. The law mandates the officer, whose assistance has been sought by the CPIO, to render all the assistance.

    It is unfortunate that public authorities are openly flouting the decisions of Central Information Commission and State Information or approaching the courts at drop of hat at the cost of tax payer. It has been revealed through RTI that some public authorities have up to Rs5 lakh per hearing to some counsels in RTI matters.

    (Mumbai-based Girish Mittal is an RTI activist)

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    COMMENTS

    Praveen Sakhuja

    5 years ago

    Judgement is worth appreciation. This will lead to CPIO's to stick to their role. by transferring application under section 6(3) within the same Public Authority jurisdiction to misplace the information sought. Export Inspection Council has adopted this method by setting a RTI Cell headed by CPIO, he transfers the applications to various appointed ACPIO's within the organization, who simply say - I am not custodian of information and application is dumped with supporting orders of FAA. motive of getting information is dumped in deep sea as applicant is to wait for another 12 months for call from CIC after preliminary wait of two months. may this decision force to review transfer under section 6(3) within the jurisdiction of same Public Authority.

    Surendra

    5 years ago

    More power to you sir.

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