Latest Move on RTI Could Reduce Autonomy of Information Commissioners: Reports
The Indian government’s latest move, a secret proposal that is being considered seeks to undermine the autonomy of information commissioners and the Central Information Commission (CIC), say reports.
 
According to a report from Huffington Post, the union government, has proposed setting up a committee, which could effectively reduce the autonomy granted to the information commissioners under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. 
 
As per a proposal, the government plans to set up committees led by bureaucrats, which would sit and decide on complaints against the chief information commissioner (CIC) and the information commissioners (ICs), says other report from the Indian Express.
 
The government plans to setup two committees of which one would receive and decide on complaints against the CIC and a second one to receive and decide on complaints against ICs. 
 
This new committee is expected to include the cabinet secretary, secretary of the Department of Personnel Training (DoPT) and a retired chief information commissioner, while the committee for the ICs is expected to include secretary (coordination) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Secretary DoPT and a retired Information Commissioner. 
 
RTI activist and former central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi observed, “I believe all positions in government must look at complaint mechanism and monitor them, but the complaint mechanism must be very well thought through.” 
 
According to Huffington Post, apart from being extremely regressive, the move would be illegal as the RTI Act envisages the ICs as independent institutions and provides several safeguards to insulate them from government control and interference. 
 
Section 14(1) of the law states that commissioners can be removed only by the President “on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity after the Supreme Court, on a reference made to it by the President, has, on inquiry, reported that the Chief Information Commissioner or any Information Commissioner, as the case may be, ought on such ground be removed”.
 
“The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s onslaught on the transparency law has not been limited to attempts to compromise the autonomy of information commissions. The government impaired the functioning of the CIC by not making appointments to fill vacancies. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014, not a single appointment to the CIC has been made unless citizens approach courts and get necessary directions. In 2018, out of a total sanctioned strength of 11 commissioners, the CIC was functioning with just three commissioners. It was finally only on the orders of the Supreme Court that the Chief and four commissioners were selected by the PM-led selection committee,” the report concludes.  
Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

User

COMMENTS

GLN Prasad

2 months ago

Autonomy does not mean authoritarian. There should be controls and redressal of grievances in every authority. As a common man, I do not perceive any problem to the public in such measures by Govt., and I welcome such move as I expect that ICs will be more cautious in delivering such decisions. Now there is no such review of IC decisions and a common man should go for a writ before HC if he wants a remedy, and some ICs are aware of this weakness and in selected cases, depending on appellants capacity they take their own decisions. After all, ICs are also human beings and not above pressures/influences.

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”.)
Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

User

SC reserves verdict on opening CJI office to RTI
The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its judgment on a petition seeking clarification whether the office of Chief Justice of India (CJI) is covered under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
On Wednesday, Attorney General (AG) K.K. Venugopal had submitted that sharing information connected with collegium, which is under the CJI office, would make judges and the government shy and destroy judicial independence.
 
A constitution bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, was told by the AG that if the RTI is applied to the collegium, it would create a sense of fear in the judiciary and impede a free and frank discussion between judges.
 
Venugopal also said that the court should refrain from opening up the highly confidential correspondence of the Supreme Court's collegium and its workings under the RTI Act.
 
The AG represented the Supreme Court's Central Public Information Officer (CPIO), who is the authority tasked to respond to RTI queries related to the court.
 
Appearing for RTI activist Subhash Chander Aggarwal, advocate Prashant Bhushan on Thursday argued before the bench for the entire day urging the judiciary to put forth the collegium process in public domain.
 
"If SC doesn't allow disclosure of information pertaining to judges' appointment, it would appear that the judiciary is hypocritical -- though it asks other authorities to provide this or that info, it doesn't allow disclosure of information pertaining to its own affairs," said Bhushan.
 
Concluding the argument, Venugopal reiterated his stand that the bench should not allow collegium process to fall under the RTI.
 
The bench asked Bhushan to submit the written arguments on Monday.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

User

We are listening!

Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.
  Loading...
Close

To continue


Please
Sign Up or Sign In
with

Email
Close

To continue


Please
Sign Up or Sign In
with

Email

BUY NOW

online financial advisory
Pathbreakers
Pathbreakers 1 & Pathbreakers 2 contain deep insights, unknown facts and captivating events in the life of 51 top achievers, in their own words.
online financia advisory
The Scam
24 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
Moneylife Online Magazine
Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
financial magazines online
Stockletters in 3 Flavours
Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
financial magazines in india
MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
(Includes Moneylife Online Magazine)