Information commissioners' appointments not transparent: RTI activists

Information commissioners' appointments not transparent: RTI activists

"As we indicated in our legal notice, we have made preparations to go to court to enforce mandatory disclosures under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act," Mumbai-based Krishnaraj Rao, who represents a group of RTI campaigners and petitioners from all over India, said.

The legal notice was served Nov 26, demanding that guidelines be followed under the RTI Act 2005, which makes it mandatory for the government to announce the eligibility criteria and procedures for appointments of central information commissioners (CIC) and chief CIC.

The activists allege the norm is not being followed. The Prime Minister is part of the committee for selection of information commissioners.

"We served a legal notice on the PMO as we think they have not maintained transparency in appointing the CICs and chief CIC as according to Section 4 (1) B of the RTI Act the criteria of appointment should have been published publicly which was not done," Rao said.

"Decisions of this magnitude cannot be carried out under a veil of secrecy by the government."

"Such opaque and unaccountable decisions are unconstitutional and unfair to the citizens of India. As earlier selections of CICs have shown, the absence of openly declared rules and guidelines for such appointments is allowing blatant nepotism to flourish.

"Our group shall take every possible step to prevent such corrupt practices from continuing."

Section 4(1) B of the RTI Act says: "Every Public Authority shall publish within 120 days from the enactment of this Act the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability; the norms set by it for the discharge of its functions; the rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records held by it or under its control or used by its employees for discharging its functions."

The legal notice has also been addressed to the law ministry and the department of personnel and training.

"We have also asked for the disclosures expeditiously and not to appoint the CIC or the chief CIC till the disclosures are made public, failing which we will be constrained to take legal redress through court," Rao said.

Supreme Court lawyer Abdul Rasheed Qureshi, who sent the notice on behalf of Rao, says: "We have not yet received any response from the officials. We are hoping to file a petition in the Delhi High Court regarding this," Qureshi said.

The legal notice to the PMO says: "As your office in particular and the government of India in general have not met this legal obligation, it is by this legal notice that I call upon you to make the mandatory disclosures before proceeding with further appointments so that further illegalities are not committed."

The RTI activists have also sent a letter to opposition leader Arun Jaitley asking he demand that the PMO and the union government make the mandatory disclosure before proceeding with further appointments to the Central Information Commission.
In an earlier public interest litigation (PIL) filed Nov 18 in the Delhi High Court, the activists stated that the government was biased in selecting CIC heads.

"A close look at the career details and appointment dates of CIC commissioners reveals the truth: the post is yours if you are an IAS officer aged around 60 and have worked with the PMO, DoPT or Ministry of Information and Broadcasting," the PIL said.

"Officers from other cadres like the Indian Police Service (IPS) may also be considered. Civil society members, eminent or otherwise, are least preferred," the PIL stated.

The high court, however, rejected the PIL, ruling:   "The court can't ask the government to frame rules to bring transparency. You can raise the issue before the government and before parliament."

But the judges encouraged the activists to keep the pressure on the government to usher in transparency, saying: "You (RTI activists) should mobilise the larger civil society to build opinion on the issue."