For More Info Log on to

Google Groups Subscribe to RTI Group
Browse Archives at

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CIC set for expansion as RTI cases mount: Activists Want Eminent Names On Board

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date:2008 Aug 19; Section:Times Nation; Page Number 13

Manoj Mitta | TNN
New Delhi: Given the manner in which RTI has caught on in less than three years, the government has decided to enlarge the Central Information Commission (CIC) adding four members to the existing five. Since the process of appointments under the transparency law has however been shrouded in secrecy, RTI activists have thrown a spanner in the works by proposing eminent persons who are willing to serve as information commissioners without taking salary, allowances or even government bungalow.
Their credentials to sit in judgment on RTI appeals are formidable. Jagdeep Chokkar and Trilochan Sastry are IIM professors who fought for the electoral reform that makes candidates declare their assets and criminal antecedents. Shailesh Gandhi, an engineer from IIT Bombay, is the convener of ‘‘national campaign for people’s right to information’’ spearheading the RTI movement. H Sudarshan, a doctor who was awarded Padma Shree for his work in rural areas, has been vigilance director with Karnataka’s Lokayukta (ombudsman).
The ones who proposed their names in a letter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on August 17 are no less eminent: Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar and Magsaysay awardees Arvind Kejriwal and Sandeep Pandey. According to the letter, Chokkar and the other three are willing to draw a token salary of Re 1 per month —their sole motive in taking up the assignment of information commissioner being ‘‘to further the cause of transparency in governance’’.
The unusual strategy adopted by civil society of suggesting alternative names may put pressure on the department of personnel and training (DoPT), which faced flak in 2005 when four of the five information commissioners appointed by it turned out to be ex-bureaucrats. The present babu-domination is despite a broad provision in the RTI Act that the information commissioners shall be ‘‘persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance’’.
The RTI activists chose to address the letter to Sonia Gandhi because she is credited with pushing the historic legislation in the face of resistance from ministers and bureaucrats. Pointing out that the country has no dearth of eminent people who are willing to work selflessly as information commissioners, the August 17 letter says: ‘‘It is high time that the government stopped confining its choice to retiring bureaucrats or to people who cultivate powers that be in anticipation of getting such posts.’’
While confirming that it has decided to enlarge CIC, the minister in charge of DoPT, Prithviraj Chavan, told TOI that the appointments were being made according to the prescribed procedure which involves a selection committee consisting of himself, the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. As for the civil society’s grievance about the lack of transparency in the appointments, Chavan said: ‘‘That can’t be a public process.’’
But how can appointments under RTI be secretive? ‘‘RTI does not mean that the names have to be disclosed while the process is still on,’’ Chavan said. For the same reason, the minister declined to comment on the apprehension expressed by RTI activists that one of the candidates under consideration was DoPT secretary Satyananda Mishra. If that does happen, it would set a pattern as even in 2005 DoPT had appointed its then secretary, A N Tiwari, as one of the information commissioners.
The RTI activists on their part have written that if the government rejects the eminent persons proposed by them, then it should explain to the nation how their candidates were found less suitable than its own nominees.

No comments: