Activists question short-listing for CIC appointments

Transparency activists find fault with Search Committee's short-listing for appointments in CIC

Quoting the documents, the SNS said seven persons were shortlisted for six vacancies and one of them was journalist Uday Mahurkar, who had not applied

Representative image: iStock Photo

Transparency activists have accused the Search Committee set up under the instructions of the Prime Minister to shortlist candidates for the post of Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission of "vitiating" the appointment process by going beyond its mandate and considering people who had not applied for the posts.

After a perusal of the files uploaded by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on the recent appointments in the CIC, the Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) said it did not reveal the criteria used by the Search Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary to consider names from outside the list of applicants while remaining silent on who all were considered.

Read: Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha pipped fellow Information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta to the CIC post, reveals RTI

In its analysis of the documents, the SNS highlighted that the RTI Act does not provide for the setting up of a Search Committee and it is constituted on the directions of the Prime Minister, who heads the Selection Committee.

It said the note from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) recording the approval of the Prime Minister for setting up the Search Committee reiterated that it is being constituted “for short-listing of candidates for the post of Information Commissioners in the Central Information Commission”. A separate Search Committee with the Cabinet Secretary as the head was also set up for short-listing candidates for the post of Chief Information Commissioner.

Read: 59% of Information Commissioners appointed so far are retired officials

The SNS said the role of the Search Committee was "limited to creating a shortlist" from among the persons who have applied in response to the advertisement issued by the DoPT but it did not restrict itself to short-listing from among those applied and considered names of other persons as suggested by members of the committee.

"Not only is this beyond the explicit mandate for which the search committee was constituted, but it also vitiates the whole appointment process by allowing it to be manipulated arbitrarily and opens it up to external influence," it said.

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Quoting the documents, the SNS said seven persons were shortlisted for six vacancies and one of them was journalist Uday Mahurkar, who had not applied. "It is not clear on what basis the committee determined his interest for the post. Finally, he was selected as an Information Commissioner by the Selection Committee headed by the PM despite the dissent note given by the leader of the Opposition who is also a member of the panel," it said.

Referring to the February 2019 Supreme Court judgment, the SNS said it would be "appropriate" for the Search Committee to make the criteria for short-listing the candidates public so that it is ensured that short-listing is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria. However, the SNS said, a perusal of the records shows that no such objective or rational criteria were recorded in the deliberations.

Read: RTI Act: 15 years on, transparency a mirage

DH had on December 25 reported that Congress' Leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is a member of the Selection Committee, had objected to the appointment of Mahurkar claiming that he was an "open supporter" of the ruling BJP and demanded that the Cabinet Secretary should explain whether he was under pressure to include him in the shortlist.

Read: Cabinet Secretary should explain if he was under pressure to shortlist Uday Mahurkar for IC: Adhir Chowdhury

Chowdhury had also questioned the way the short-listing was done and how Mahurkar found his way into the short-list.

The SNS said the Selection Committee failed to fill all the vacancies despite knowledge about the same. It said at the time of deliberation of these appointments, the post of the Chief and five posts of information commissioners were vacant in the CIC.

As the committee chose an incumbent commissioner Y K Sinha for the post of the chief, the vacancies had risen to six but the committee recommended only three names for the post of information commissioners leading to 50% of the vacancies remaining unfilled.

Read: 3.33 crore RTI queries filed in Centre, states since 2005; 38 posts of Information Commissioners vacant

As of Wednesday, it said, over 38,000 appeals and complaints are pending in the CIC and it takes around two years for a matter to come up for hearing.