Defiance of RTI, Info Denied about Selection Panel, Candidates for CBI Chief’s Post
The selection committee headed by prime minister Narendra Modi is likely to meet on the 24th January to finalise the name of the next  chief of CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), as the term of the current CBI chief will be over on the 31st January. The government has, reportedly, initiated this process since December 2018. In the meantime, a controversy is already brewing regarding the appointment of Nageshwar Rao as the interim director; but that’s another story.
 
Just like the appointment of information commissioners under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the naming of the selection committee and the short-listed candidates for these posts also demands transparency. While, in the past, this information was available under RTI requisition; recently, the department of personnel & training (DoPT), which appoints them has defied the Supreme Court order which directed it to make this information public. Now, the DoPT is playing the same game of opaqueness in the case of the appointment of the next CBI chief.
 
Activists Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri filed RTI applications regarding details of the meetings of the selection committee (which consists of the PM, the leader of the Opposition, and the chief justice of India (or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him) including the date of meetings, copy of the agenda of meetings, copy of the minutes of meetings and details of persons who attended each meeting. Information was sought under the RTI Act about any process adopted by the government to short-list candidates for consideration by the selection committee; a copy of any short-list prepared; and details of any committee set up to prepare such a short-list.
 
The DoPT has responded to each of these RTI applications with the same summary response: “It is informed that as per this department’s executive order No. 230/14/99-DPSE dated 08.07.2004 issued in pursuance of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s directions dated 20.04.2004 given in CA No. 4303/2002, amongst all the IPS officers of the senior most 4 batches in service on the date of retirement of the (incumbent) director, CBI are needed to be considered for filling up the post of new Director, CBI. The process of selection of new Director in CBI has not attained finality…” 
 
States Anjali Bharadwaj, “There is complete lack of transparency in the process of appointment of the CBI director. The government has not provided information sought under the RTI Act about details of the on-going selection process. This is clearly an attempt to obfuscate and withhold information about the appointment process. No details about the selection committee meetings or the process of short-listing candidates have been provided.’’
 
She fears a repeat of December 2016 as she says, “When the previous CBI director retired, the government failed to convene a meeting of the selection committee to appoint the successor, and Mr. Rakesh Asthana was named interim director. After a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court, Mr. Alok Verma was selected and appointed as director. In order to ensure public trust in the institution of the CBI, it is critical that appointment of the director be made in a timely manner and there be transparency in the process of appointment, which will enable public scrutiny."
 
As against such utter secrecy, which would arouse the suspicion of every right thinking citizen, Commodore Lokesh Batra states that, “In 2012 such information was given out and included file notings too. I was also allowed inspection of files. It is strange that Anjali’s and Amrita’s RTI applications have been thwarted.”
 
The information Cdr Batra sought included the following:
a) Names, seniority and batch details of IPS officers initially included for short-listing by the CBI selection board/committee headed by the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) for the appointment of the next CBI director; 
b) Names, seniority and batch details of officers recommended in the panel for selection of CBI director and name of the officer selected; 
c) List of file/files with reference numbers on which the selection process of the next CBI director was processed by the selection committee headed by the CVC and by the appointment committee of the Cabinet; 
d) Attested copies of the file/file notings from time to time and when the process of selection for the post of the next CBI director was initiated; and
e) Permission for me to inspect all the files concerned with the said issue.
 
Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri had requested the following information recently, but  they have been flatly refused the information. The requisitions were as follows:
1. Information regarding all the meetings held since 1 December 2018 of the committee constituted under Section 4(A) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act to select/appoint the CBI director: 
a. Dates of all meetings 
b. Copy of agenda of all meetings 
c. Copy of minutes/discussions/proceedings/verbatim recordings, etc, of the proceedings of all meetings 
d. Name and designation of persons attending each meeting.
 
1. Information (as defined in Section 2(f) of the RTI Act) on the process being adopted by the government to prepare a short-list for the consideration of the selection committee set up (under Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act) to appoint the CBI director upon the retirement of the incumbent director. 
 
2. Copy of any short-list prepared by the government for consideration by the selection committee set up (under Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act) to appoint the CBI director upon the retirement of the incumbent director.
 
3. If any committee has been constituted to prepare a short-list for consideration by the selection committee set up (under Section 4A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act) to appoint the CBI director upon the retirement of the incumbent director, please provide the following information related to the said committee— 
a. Order/notification regarding constitution of the committee 
b. Names of members of the committee 
c. Date of all meetings of the committee 
d. Copy of agenda of all meetings of the committee e. Copy of minutes/ discussions/ proceedings/ verbatim recordings etc. of the proceedings of all the meetings 
f. Names and designations of persons attending each meeting.
 
(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

1 month ago

We the world are in State where State has complete Immunity under garb of Security Law & Judiciary Murders are legal internal or external.Now what shall save the day.Responsibile Integral Honest Power centers.Today world is staring at worst Economic state where material state has improved but Moral State is in morass.I believe as per Raj Dharma better not to know somethings. See Jolly LLB2 where Lawyer Takes on Inspector.It would be a better film if Lawyer takes on UN Peace Head or President or PM.Trump is under investigation.DeMon costs India 12lac cr officially & we want PM to stay.Which Corporate Head would survive after such a loss But then Politics makes it look legal & beautiful Sad n Bad when openly Promissory Note was flouted & commissions were given & taken all over India and 99% cash came back in system much disappeared in Gold/$$ havala God Knows fact is Business is in mess Mahesh Bhatt

P M Ravindran

1 month ago

The RTI Act? The law enacted with much fan fare 'to contain corruption and to hold Governments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed'? 13 years down the line it can be said with confidence and total conviction that this simple, clear and unambiguous law has been subverted by the very information commissioners appointed, tasked and empowered to enforce it. In fact the provision to reduce information commissions to just rehabilitation homes for the favourite babus retiring from service was there in the Act itself. And it is in the form of pay, perks and status of Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commissioner and Chief Secretary to the information commissioners whose task is simpler than that of a munsif in our judicial system. If that was an act of commission the act of omission is the absence of ban on former public servants being employed as ICs/CICs on the grounds of vested/conflict of interests.

There are plenty of blogs on how the RTI Act has been murdered at raviforjustice.blogspot.com and the titles are as explicit as 'RTI- exposing the idiots and traitors among public servants'.

Track FDA Raids on Eateries by Filing RTI
Last week, Moneylife had published an interview with Dr Pallavi Darade. Her raids on 350 outlets from where four leading online food app companies procured food for their customers, revealed unhygienic conditions in 112 outlets, which did not have registered licences either.
 
To recall, Dr Darade had revealed the condition of restaurants/outlets from where cooked food is procured by the fashionable online food service apps—Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and Uber Eats—and is served to thousands of unsuspecting youngsters. Thus:
 
  • though it was promised that food had been delivered from this or that outlet, many a time it was found that the food was actually delivered from the dhaba right next to the customer’s house, or from a very small outlet  and at times even from homemade kitchens where facilities were inadequate; 
  • there was no pest control; kitchens were dirty; 
  • the  water in which the food needs to be cooked was not potable and was never tested for safety; 
  •  sometimes toilets were very close to the kitchens and medical check-up of people who were serving the food under these extremely unhygienic conditions was never done;
  •  sometimes dirty clothing was lying around;
  •  sometimes the storerooms where raw material was kept was not hygienic.
 
Dr Darade concluded by pointing to the shocking outcome of the searches and raids that there were several parameters that needed to be applied under the Food Safety Act, which were not complied. 
 
In order to procure more details on the reports of the raids, I decided to file an RTI application with the public information officer, Food & Drugs Administration, government of Maharashtra. And that was the first stumbling block. During the entire day on Wednesday, its website http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/ just did not open. I wanted to find out the name of the public information officer and the correct office address. I got access to it only today, Thursday at 4.30 am.  However, I am appalled to note that when you click the `RTI Act’ icon on its homepage, you get no information on the name of the public information officer or the appellate authority for filing your RTI requisition/appeal (http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/SPK-D-3A11(1).pdf). This pdf copy that has been posted on its website names designations of officers without any names. Providing the names of PIOs is compulsory under Section 4 of the RTI Act. 
 
Besides, FDA is a government agency, which should be directly connected with the people as it deals with the crucial element of their health, and what better way than interacting through the public domain, that is, its website? I have decided to file a complaint with the state information commission against FDA for not following the proactive disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
Also, what is shocking is this feedback from one of our readers, Adheer Pai who wrote in the comments column of my article published last week, “The link to register a food related complaint on the FDA website does not work. (http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/food.html (Click Report a Food Problem).” 
 
Dr Darade had confidently stated that consumers could use this Facebook page for any complaint. Her words are: “Yes, we get complaints often because we have offices across Maharashtra; we also have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Maharashtra.FDA1/.); a helpline number (1800222365) and our landline no is 022-265923-63/64/64. So, through all these online and offline support systems, we keep getting complaints. In fact, these complaints were the major ground information sources for us which brought our attention to the seriousness of the issue and made us believe that we need to check it thoroughly.”
 
Hence, I shall communicate Adheer Pai’s feedback to her.
 
Nevertheless, you can address your RTI application (like I have done) to the public information officer, Food and Drugs Administration, Survey No. 341, 2nd Floor, Bandra-Kurla Complex, Opposite Reserve Bank Of India, Kala Nagar, Bandra East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400051. Do not forget to stick Rs10 court fee stamp. (See picture shot of my RTI application)
 
 
I have asked for the following information for the period of 1 January 2017 to 10 January 2019:
 
1. Please provide copies of all reports of raids conducted on 350 or more outlets of online food service apps—Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other.
2. Please provide a copy of the proposal and decision to conduct raids on Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other.
3. Please provide copies of photographs and videos taken of the kitchen, toilets and any other that may have been clicked or shot, during the above raids.
4. Please provide a list of all the outlets that were raided along with addresses and list of outlets.
5. Please provide copies of correspondence of authorities of Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any other to your office, in this matter.
6. Please provide mandatory rules and regulations for procuring a food license and a copy of action taken when there is a violation of such rules and regulations.
7. Please provide a copy of FDI’s order to close 10,000 or more outlets of above food companies.
8. Please provide a copy of the proposal for further action/action taken against Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, Foodpanda and any others for being responsible for putting their customers’ health in danger.
 
Let us make this into a public movement through the RTI route. We cannot afford an entire generation of unhealthy youngsters who are going to be the future citizens of this country!
 
(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

Veeresh Malik

1 month ago

RTI Applications can also be filed online with State Government of Maharashtra and PIO or specific department office is not known please file with GAD of CM Office. They have been very helpful in transferring my RTIs to the various subordinate offices all over MH under 6/3. Online also means no need to buy stamp or stationary. You can file in English and ask for a reply in English but will get a reply in Marathi.

REPLY

Meenal Mamdani

In Reply to Veeresh Malik 1 month ago

Thank you Mr. Malik. Your info will come in handy for citizens in Mumbai.

Unfortunately I am a NRI and not a citizen of India any longer but I wish Indian consumers all the best in their struggle for improving the hygiene in the eateries.

I have copied Ms Deshmukh's and your suggestions and plan to send it to as many of my relatives and friends as possible and exhort them to hold the eateries accountable.

This year I have seen several restaurants displaying signs saying that their premises are fire regulations compliant, thanks to the pressure created by consumers after last year's horrific fire in a restaurant.

I hope that this movement for hygienic restaurants catches on. We all will benefit from it.

Meenal Mamdani

1 month ago

Ms. Deshmukh, this is a call to arms for all citizens. You are persistent and meticulous. I hope your call is taken up by many in Mumbai.
Wish your drive all the best.

Short Shrift to SC Order; Babus Emerge as Information Commissioners in Opaque Process
The transparency law, called the Right to Information Act (RTI), after much hammering by the Supreme Court has, just been gifted with a chief central information commissioner, Sudhir Bhargava, an information commissioner until now in the CIC and four information commissioners—Vanaja N. Sarna (the only lady), formerly, chief of the Central Board of Excise and Customs; Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, former High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom; Suresh Chandra, former Union law secretary and Neeraj Kumar Gupta, secretary in the department of investment and public asset management, in the most opaque manner.
 
These posts had remained vacant for several months and have been finally filled up and only after a public interest litigation (PIL) case was filed in the Supreme Court. However, directives given by the SC to put up on the website the names of the search committee which was looking out for candidates and applicants as well as the shortlisted ones for these posts, have been violated. When this writer checked the department of personnel and training (DoPT) website on the 3rd January, at 2.20pm, no details had been put up until then. This means, the candidates were secretly chosen from the cosy babus’ basket wherein retired babus often lie, awaiting rehabilitation to such posts.
 
Anjali Bharadwaj, one of the petitioners, vehemently states, “It appears that in contravention of the SC order, no information about the search committee, names of short-listed candidates or the short-listing criteria have been uploaded. Further, no information about the meetings of the selection committee is available on the website.”
 
States Commodore Lokesh Batra, her co-petitioner, “The violation of the orders of the Supreme Court by the government means that appointments of commissioners to the transparency watchdog have been shrouded in complete secrecy. The lack of transparency is especially worrying given that the government had issued defective advertisements for inviting applications for the posts of information commissioners and the chief. The advertisements did not specify the tenure and salaries of commissioners, even though these are defined in the RTI Act.’’
 
Prof Sridhar Acharyulu, former CIC, one of the few non-bureaucrats who did a splendid job during his five year tenure, is also up in arms and has written a letter to the members of the search committee with cc to the President of India. He states in the letter,  “Why all the four chosen only from the bureaucracy? Couldn’t the search committee find even one eminent person from the fields of law, social service, media, journalism, science and technology, as mandated by Section 12(5) of Right to Information Act? There should be at least one from each of these fields and the chief information commission should be one of them in rotation to rebut the criticism that the information commissions are being filled with retired bureaucrats. The governments should understand that ‘administration’ is only one of the fields and not the only one, specifically mandated in the RTI Act for both Central and state commissions.’’
 
Just to recall, Prof Acharyulu provides the following reference:
 
  • A bench of Justices AK Sikri, S Abdul Nazeer and R Subhash Reddy asked the Centre to put on the website details of search committee for CIC and ICs. 
  • Additional Solicitor General informed the court that a total of 65 applications had come for the post of CIC and 280 applications had been received for the post of four ICs in the Central Information Commission.
  • It was also informed that after these posts are filled up, notification would be issued for inviting applications for the remaining posts of ICs.
  •  Prashanth Bhushan had raised an objection to the absence of the term of the office of the CICs in the notification calling for applications for these posts. It is an important legal question. Because the notification does not mention the term and status, many eminent persons might have not opted to even apply, which naturally shrinks the scope of the right persons from getting into the transparency body. 
  • With the danger of amendment to RTI Act looming large, only those who are ready to take a position subordinate to the Centre, might have applied..
 
He further adds,  “The rationale for seeking transparency in the process of appointment is to ensure that there is no arbitrariness in the appointment process and the most appropriate candidates from diverse backgrounds, as laid down in the RTI Act, are appointed as information commissioners. Further, disclosure of information about the short-listed candidates enables members of the public to inform the selection committee of any significant adverse information they may have about them in terms of their appropriateness as commissioners. If appointments to the CIC have been finalised without proper transparency, the entire purpose of the SC order directing disclosure of information to enable public scrutiny stands defeated.’’
 
However, the government cares a hoot! The RTI Act has suffered a hard blow. No doubt, the government is uncomfortable with non-bureaucratic information commissioners like Shailesh Gandhi, Prof Sridhar Acharyulu and Vijay Kuvalekar who were dynamic and understood the pulse of this citizen-friendly 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”.)
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