Get this right

With the post of Chief Information Commissioner falling vacant following Wahajat Habibullah’s resignation, hectic lobbying is on for the job. Among the names doing the rounds is that of former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, who is being backed by an eclectic group of social activists, artistes and eminent personalities. The high-decibel, very public campaign being waged by those supporting Bedi has drawn attention to the opaque process that the government adopts while appointing information commissioners. Those waging the campaign in support of Bedi have said they are doing so in public to ensure the process of selection is open. While transparency in appointments to all posts is essential, it is all the more imperative in the case of the CIC’s post. After all, the CIC is in charge of furthering the cause of transparency in governance. If his appointment is shrouded in secrecy and clouded by a questionable process, it would undermine his authority.

The current method of appointing the CIC and other information commissioners violates several articles of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Posts that are to be filled are never advertised, so selection is restricted to a small circle of officials and ex-bureaucrats with connections in Delhi. In the process, people who have made immense contributions to public life in a variety of fields and with unimpeachable credentials are not considered. This has to change if we want an effective CIC. Advertising the post as is done in countries like the UK will widen the pool for selection and introduce an element of transparency in the selection process.

It is four years since the RTI came into force. It has provided the common man with a powerful tool but it is still a long way off from ensuring good governance. A recent study into the conduct of information commissioners across the country indicates that only 27 per cent of RTI applicants receive the information they asked for and only two per cent of those who violate the RTI are penalised. Clearly, bureaucrats continue to hold back information, raising questions about the quality of the information commissioners.

Do the information commissioners lack the perseverance and the integrity that is essential to make the RTI work? It is important that information commissioners are enthusiastic about chasing the truth and are tough enough to enforce the RTI. This needs to be borne in mind while appointing the next CIC.

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