DoPT Denies Information despite Strictures by Supreme Court on Transparency in CIC Appointments
Shockingly, despite the Supreme Court order on 15 February 2019 directing the government to be transparent regarding the selection process and appointment of central and state information commissioners (ICs), the DoPT (department of personnel & training), which makes these appointments, recently, denied information under RTI (Right to Information), pertaining to the selection process of some more central ICs.
The information that DoPT refused to provide includes:
The list of the 256 applicants;
The constitution of the search committee;
The number of meetings held and the persons who attended them to select the candidates; and
The criteria adopted in shortlisting the candidates for the recent selection of the four central ICs who have been appointed.
In reply to RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj’s application, the DoPT has audaciously replied that, “The judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court…is under consideration of the Department. The information relating is exempted under Section 8 (1) (i) of the RTI Act 2005. It would not be conducive to give such information in the manner it is sought since the process of selection is yet to be completed. No such practice is followed in any other equivalent high-level appointments of government.”
So, what information did Ms Bharadwaj ask for that made the DoPt defy the apex court's order and bring it under Section 8 of the RTI Act? The following was her requisition:
In January 2019, the DoPT had invited applications for four posts of information commissioners in the Central Information Commission. Please provide the following information in this regard:
Number of applications received by the government in pursuance of the advertisement;
Names and particulars of persons who have applied in pursuance of the advertisement;
Copies of all documents, records, file notings, correspondence etc related to the process adopted by the government to analyse or shortlist the applications received for consideration for the post of information commissioners;
If any search committee has been constituted, please provide the following information related to the said committee:
a) Order regarding the constitution of the committee;
b) Names of the members of the committee;
c) Dates of all meetings of the committee;
d) Agenda of all meetings of the committee;
e) Copy of minutes/discussions/proceedings/verbatim recordings etc of the proceedings of the committee;
f) Names and designations of persons attending the meeting;
g) Criteria adopted by the committee for shortlisting the candidate.
Ms Bharadwaj also sought information on the meetings held to select information commissioners as regards date and agenda of the meetings, minutes of the meetings of the proceedings and persons who attended it.
The DoPt in its reply to Ms Bharadwaj has provided its reply in a paragraph stating that, “the total number of applications received were 256. An advertisement for filling up of the four posts of Information Commissioners in the CIC was put up on the DoPT website on 4 January 2019 and published in the newspapers on 8 January 2019. The last date for receipt of application was 25 January 2019…The instructions and orders issued from time to time relating to Right to Information Act are available in the public domain…”
States Ms Bharadwaj, “It is shocking that the DoPT has denied records on appointment of information commissioners and says they are still considering the SC judgment which ordered transparency in appointments. What are they considering- whether to comply with SC judgment or not?”
It may be recalled that Sudhir Bhargava, an information commissioner, who was a former CIC was appointed as the Chief Central Information Commissioner in January 2019 along with four information commissioners—Vanaja N Sarna (the only lady), formerly, chief of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC); Yashwardhan Kumar Sinha, former High Commissioner of India to the UK; Suresh Chandra, former Union law secretary and Neeraj Kumar Gupta, secretary in the department of investment and public asset management.
These appointments were not as per the norms laid out for these committees as per the RTI Act. Therefore, Ms Bharadwaj had pointed out in the Supreme Court, “the search committee had, in violation of its mandate, short-listed persons who had not even applied for the post in response to advertisements. Further, the minutes of the search committee meeting revealed that no rational criteria were adopted on the basis of which the short-listing was done. Also, the minutes showed the completely ad-hoc manner of functioning of the search committee, wherein people who were appointed members of the committee, also applied for the post and had to be subsequently replaced and were finally even short-listed. One of the persons who has been appointed- Shri Suresh Chandra, had not even applied for the post.”
As a sequel to her complaint, the SC had directed the government to make the entire selection process transparent by uploading all details on the website. Upholding the right to information as a fundamental right flowing from the Constitution of India, the Court had given significant directions to ensure timely and transparent appointment of information commissioners. However, the DoPT chooses to defy it.
(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”