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”.