Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury opposed the appointment of journalist Uday Mahurkar as an Information Commissioner in the Central Information Commission (CIC) claiming that he was an "open supporter" of the ruling BJP. Chowdhury, who is also the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, demanded from that the Cabinet Secretary whether he was under pressure to include him in the shortlist.
Chowdhury, one of the three members of the Prime Minister-headed Selection Committee that makes recommendations for the appointments in the CIC, also had reservations about Yashvardhan Sinha finding a place in the shortlist of the Search Committee, as he felt that he lacked adequate "ground domestic experience".
The senior Congress MP recorded his objections in a dissent note submitted during the October 24 meeting when Sinha was cleared as the Chief Information Commissioner and Mahurkar, Saroj Punhani and Heeralal Samariya were chosen for the posts of Information Commissioners.
DH sought a copy of Chowdhury's dissent note earlier and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) replied on December 6 that relevant files would be uploaded after obtaining clearance. It was made available on the website on December 24.
For the posts of Information Commissioners, the committee had shortlisted seven persons, including Mahurkar. Besides Sinha, then a serving Information Commissioner, Neeraj Kumar Gupta was also shortlisted for the post CIC.
In his dissent note, Chowdhury termed the short-listing of Mahurkar as "shocking" as he had not been among the 355 who applied for the post.
"The fact that the Search Committee has sky-dropped the name of Mahurkar casts very serious aspersions on the integrity of the committee," he said adding that it rendered the entire exercise of inviting applications "useless".
The MP demanded that the Cabinet Secretary, as the Chairman of the Search Committee, should explain the "special reasons" and "pressure exhorted upon him" for including Mahurkar in the shortlist. He stated that the journalist has a "pre-fixed ideology of supporting the ruling party (kindly verify his articles, comments, social media profile etc)".
On October 29, Mahurkar had tweeted that his appointment was "an opportunity to serve the nation in Veer Savarkar’s spirit of true Nation First." He is also the author of 'Marching with a Billion', a book on Modi's governance.
Chowdhury said Mahurkar's inclusion was "completely out of turn", which smacked of "apparent bias on the face of it".
He was also critical of Sinha's appointment saying that he was an IFS officer of the 1981 batch and that Foreign Service officers mostly worked abroad. Even while at home, Chowdhury claimed they have nothing much to do with general administration, policy formations, service delivery and program implementation — areas that form the overwhelming bulk of RTI queries.
Chowdhury demanded to reconsider Sinha's name for the post because he said that a CIC should be someone with more on-ground domestic experience in the field of service delivery, law, science, human rights and issues that concerns the general public in their day to day life.
He also found fault with the Search Committee for not short-listing Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna, a 1980 batch officer, who was the senior-most and far more experienced than Sinha.
Chowdhury was also critical of the functioning of the Search Committee saying the exercise was "nothing but an empty formality aimed at carrying out a hog-wash that defeats the very aim and goal" of transparency and accountability that the RTI Act envisages.
He said it was appalling that the Search Committee failed to give any reasons or justifications in writing as to why the shortlisted candidates are more suitable among all those who applied for the said posts.
A total of 139 candidates had applied for the post of CIC while 355 candidates applied for the various posts of ICs. Chowdhury alleged that the Search Committee "arbitrarily" selected names without providing any reason for eliminating 486 candidates for the two positions.
He criticised the committee for short-listing only bureaucrats, making it appear as a "cosy club of retired civil servants who were being provided post-retirement sinecures as quid pro quo for the commitment they may have shown to their political masters".