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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rights activists question move to appoint new info commissioners

As reported in Publication: Times Of India Delhi; Date: Mar 29, 2009; Section: Times Nation; Page: 9

Rights activists question move to appoint new info commissioners
Himanshi Dhawan | TNN

New Delhi: Civil rights activist Aruna Roy has opposed the government’s move to appoint new information commissioners and has sought Election Commission’s intervention to halt the process. Terming the move “regrettable”, Roy pointed out that appointment of information commissioners while the model code of conduct was underway would raise concerns over the process of recruitment.

According to sources, the department of personnel and training has moved a proposal to appoint two information commissioners. It is learnt that while one person is a retired civil servant, the other belongs to a non-government organisation. There are seven information commissioners including chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

A letter signed by Roy and RTI activist Shekhar Singh sought the EC’s intervention to “advise the government to refrain from appointing information commissioners during the run-up to the general elections as this would be a clear

violation of the model code of conduct and would raise legitimate concerns about the fairness and the impartiality of the selection process”.

Sources added that there was no real need or urgency for new commissioners. In fact, the present set is facing a staff crunch and is unable to handle the workload due to that. According to estimates, a commissioner costs about Rs 25 lakh per year — including salary, house and transport facilities — to the public exchequer and the decision to appoint people should not be taken lightly. The CIC has an average disposal of 1,300-1,400 cases per commissioner while it is expected to be 4,000-5,000 cases.

Roy also questioned the timing of the move. “They (information activists and citizens) have argued that the selection of commissioners should be a transparent process based on an understanding of the current membership of the panel and the ideal mix and balance between different backgrounds and expertise of the commissioners. However, despite such protests, it is regrettable that government has decided to go ahead with these appointments even as the code of conduct preceding the elections has come into force,” the letter said.

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