12 February 2010
Department of Personnel and Training
Government of India
New Delhi – 110001
Selection of Central Information Commissioners:
Need for introduction of ethical and transparent norms
We, a group of RTI activists and citizens from around the country, are addressing you as the primary rule-making body and custodian of the Right to Information Act 2005. While Section 12 of RTI Act lays out the bare-minimum basis and method for appointment of Central Information Commissioners (CICs), the experience over the past five years has made it evident that this by itself is inadequate. As with other provisions of the RTI Act, Section 12 too needs to be fleshed out with further rules, guidelines and procedures for enabling proper implementation of its letter and spirit. In the absence of such rules etc, there are serious issues about the ethics, transparency and accountability with which such appointments are being carried out.
The procedure for appointment of Central Information Commissioners has been a matter of grave concern for citizens for quite some time now. Records accessed under the Right to Information act reveal that the procedure adopted so far for appointments have been arbitrary, non-transparent and highly questionable. This is further confirmed by the fact that legal notices served to DoPT and PMO in recent months have persistently been given evasive replies.
Need to apply existing guidelines for appointments
In this context, we would like to bring to your notice two office memoranda issued by your own department, one dated 25th October 1994, No.AB-14017/36/94-Estt.(RR) and the other dated 30th July 2007 No.AB.14017/11/2004-Estt(RR). Para no. 3.1.(ii) of the first circular states: “It is to be kept in mind that as a rule, appointments in Government are to be made on the basis of open advertisement. Therefore, proper advertisement of vacancies to be filled up by direct recruitment is an essential requirement”. But these well-thought-out rules have not been applied on some flimsy pretexts when it comes to appointing Information Commissioners so far.
From the wording of Section 12(5), it is self-evident that the post of Information Commissioners is to be filled by “eminent citizens” from various walks of life. While this term does not exclude retired bureaucrats, it is quite clear that the legislative intent is that such appointments must be broad-based, and not unduly biased in favour of former officers of IAS and other civil service cadres. The practices currently being followed are at cross-purposes to this legislative intent.
Instances of unethical appointments
Sir, you are well aware that two former Secretaries of DoPT were appointed as Information Commissioners while they were still in office – Mr A N Tiwari and Mr Satyananda Mishra. In other words, the Head of the department that was charged with preparing a list of candidates for consideration by the selection committee, put his own name on the list on two occasions! It is precisely this kind of scenario — where a person who has the power to select, selects himself — that the Constitution intended to avoid at all costs.
The case of Ms Omita Paul, who was appointed as Information Commissioner for less than two months, is also a case in point. It is an open secret today as to why she was appointed to Central Information Commission just before elections and then brought back into the government as an advisor immediately after the elections.
Such appointments are detrimental to the RTI Act. It is sad that this wonderful piece of legislation had to go through this phase. Looking ahead, we request you to put an end to such unethical practices immediately.
Time to issue circulars and advertisements calling for candidatures
This is the 5th year of the implementation of the Right to Information act. Towards end of 2010, large numbers of Information Commissioners, including Chief Information Commissioners, will retire all over the country, at Central and State Information Commissions. In this context, we request you to adopt a transparent procedure including advertising of the vacancies inviting applications. In order to set up a wholesome environment for the future implementation of the RTI Act, it is necessary for you to set a precedent that other states will follow.
Learning from International Experience
As for the actual procedure to be adopted, best practices can be drawn from examples like Indonesia, where:
· Vacancies for the posts of Information Commissioners are publicised in national dailies.
· Applicants’ antecedents are verified with the help of NGOs.
· Shortlisted candidates have to pass a series of tests.
In Canada, the criteria for being an Information Commissioner are clearly laid down on their website (http://www.infocom.gc.ca/selection_criterias-criteres_selection-e.asp ). The world over, it has now become clear that putting in place a proper procedure for appointing the right people is one of the key measures for delivering justice. As we are rightly proud that our Right to Information act is among the best such legislations in the world, it is imperative that we act now, and formulate a procedure that will ensure that this powerful legislation does not wither away. This needs to be done by ensuring that it gets the people it requires to uphold it.
In the light of the above submissions, we request you to immediately prepare a procedure after public consultation for selection of Information Commissioners, including the Chief Information Commissioner, in a transparent, accountable and unbiased manner. In the interest of the RTI Act and its effective implementation, we urge that such a process be initiated within a maximum period of 60 days to infuse confidence in the citizens as well.
Rakesh Agarwal(New Delhi)
A.Rasheed Qureshi(New Delhi)
Address for Correspondence
31/IV, Mansaroavar Raja Apartments
11A, Arcot Road, Porur
Chennai – 600116