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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Modi-baiter on info panel leaves LK fuming

Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Aug 24, 2008; Section: Times Nation; Page: 14

Manoj Mitta | TNN
New Delhi: For BJP leader L K Advani, the government’s proposal of appointing a Narendra Modibaiter as information commissioner was like a red rag to a bull. Advani has protested to home minister Shivraj Patil about the inclusion of former IPS officer R B Shreekumar, who had accused the Modi administration of complicity in the Gujarat riots, among the five nominees to be appointed as information commissioners under the RTI Act.

In fact, the nomination of Shreekumar was the main reason for Advani’s decision to boycott the meeting of the statutory committee, which was to be held by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 21 to select the names for the proposed expansion of the Central Information Commission (CIC).

Since the names of the nominees are meant to be confidential, Advani made no mention of Shreekumar in his August 21 letter to Manmohan Singh seeking a postponement of the meeting. He did however put on record that he had “ s e r i o u s reservations about the a g e n d a ” (which contained the names of the nominees) and that he had c o nv e y e d his objection “orally” to home minister Shivraj Patil.

Though his letter to the PM is couched in the principles of governance, as reported by TOI on August 23, Advani’s objection to Shreekumar in his phone conversation with Patil has made it clear that the proposed expansion of CIC cannot take place unless the government drops the retired Gujarat police officer from its list of nominees.

From the hostility displayed by him, it is evident that Advani sees Shreekumar as an opponent of BJP rather than as a whistleblower who proved his commitment to transparency and accountability by bringing out illegal orders issued by the Modi government during the 2002 riots.

The injection of politics into the appointment process defeats the purpose of Section 12(3) of the RTI Act, which requires the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha to be a member of the committee to ensure non-partisan selection of information commissioners, who adjudicate appeals and complaints against public authorities.

The government has already shown signs of yielding to Advani’s pressure to drop Shreekumar from its list of nominees. In his response to Advani’s letter, Manmohan Singh wrote the same day that he was open to considering fresh names.

“If you have any names to suggest for appointment as information commissioners, you may like to send them to me early,” PM said to Advani.

On the positive side, since Advani has also endorsed a civil society call to look beyond the pool of ex-bureaucrats, the government is learnt to be considering the possibility of including one or two of the names suggested by RTI activists.

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