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Activists slam govt over no transparency in CIC selection process


Press Trust of India New Delhi
The process of selecting chief information commissioner and information commissioners in the Central Information Commission has earned the ire of activists who have alleged that the Centre ignored the Supreme Court directive to ensure transparency in the matter.
A group of activists had approached the Supreme Court on the vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the lack of transparency in the selection process.
"Taking a serious note of the lack of transparency in the process of appointment, the Supreme Court in its order had directed the central government to 'put on the website the names of the Search Committee, the candidates who have been shortlisted as well as the criteria which is followed for selection', activist Anjali Bhardwaj, one of the petitioners before the Supreme Court, said.
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired), who is also a litigant in the matter, said since 2014, no information commissioner has been appointed before the intervention of courts.
He said the government was responsible for 'contempt of SC order' by not placing in public domain the details of the selection process and applicants.
"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," Bhardwaj said.
She said from a perusal of the website of the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT), it appears that in contravention of the apex court 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. In fact, even the order regarding the selection of the chief and four information commissioners is not available," she said.
The activist said the lack of transparency was especially concerning given that the government had issued 'defective' advertisements for inviting applications for the posts of the chief information commissioner and information commissioners.
"The advertisements also did not specify the tenure and salaries of commissioners even though these are defined in the Right To Information Act," she said.
Former information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu, who had called for adequate representation of non-bureaucrats in the CIC, said the Supreme Court rightly asked the Centre and states to maintain transparency in the appointments and upload the details of search committees and applicants on the web site.
"The Central Information Commission has been created by transparency statute RTI Act - to ensure transparency in all central government authorities. But the plight is that the public spirited citizens have to file public interest litigations whenever the posts of the chief and the information commissioners fall vacant and only after Supreme Court asks, the Government acts," he said in an e-mail to the Prime Minister and Leader of the largest opposition party Congress, both members of the selection committee.
Acharyulu also questioned why the government chose four information commissioners from bureaucracy.
"Whether search committee could not search even one eminent person from fields of law, social service, media, journalism, science and technology mandated by Section 12(5) of Right to Information Act," he said.
There should be at least one from each of these fields and the chief information commissioner should be one of them in rotation to answer the criticism that information commissions are being filled with retired bureaucrats, he added.
The government appointed Sudhir Bhargava as Chief Information Commissioner along with four information commissioners, all of whom are bureaucrats, in the Central Information Commission.
Bhargava was Information Commissioner in the CIC. The panel was functioning with three members against the sanctioned strength of 11, including the chief information commissioner.

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First Published: Dec 31 2018 | 8:45 PM IST

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