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Monday, November 16, 2009

CIC Selection: Amazing Similarities of Age & Career betray DoPT’s “Hidden Hand”

Many RTI Activists went blue in the face asking PMO and DoPT about the process they used for selecting Central Information Commissioners. The activists were stonewalled with assertions that selections were as per Section 12(5) of the RTI Act. But that was a blatant lie. Look at the biodatas and appointment dates of the Information Commissioners at the CIC website, and mentally join the dots. The truth that emerges is: “The CIC’s post is yours for the asking if you are an IAS officer aged around 60, and have worked with PMO, DoPT or I&B ministry. Other cadres like IPS etc. may also be considered. Civil society members – eminent or otherwise -- are last preference.”

FIRST, LOOK AT THE STRIKING SIMILARITIES OF AGE: Everybody was almost exactly 60 years old when they took oath as CIC! Wajahat Habibullah took oath in October 2005, when he was 60 years and 1 month old. Mrs Padma Balasubramanian, O P Kejriwal, A N Tiwari and M M Ansari were appointed along with him. A N Tiwari was aged 59 years 10 months at the time of appointment. Satyanand Mishra (59 years 7 months old), Mrs Annapurna Dixit (60 years 3 months), M L Sharma (59 years 5 months) and Shailesh Gandhi (61 years 2 months) took oath in September 2008. Mrs Deepak Sandhu and Mrs Sushma Singh took oath in September 2009, respectively aged 60 years 9 months, and 60 years 4 months. Mrs Omita Paul was administered oath in May ’09, aged 60 years 6 months.

Padma Balasubramanian and O P Kejariwal retired in Dec ’08 and Feb ’09 respectively, upon reaching 65 years of age.

Clearly, DoPT is at work, selecting bureaucrats for the CIC’s post to optimize their working lives. IAS officers retire from government service at 60, and posts like the Central and State Information Commissioners are needed for their continued employment! When faced with such practical necessities, the idealistic requirements of Section 12(5) and civil society will go for a toss, boss!

TWO EXCEPTIONS: Prof M M Ansari – an academician– was sworn in as CIC at the tender age of 53 years 3 months. He, along with Shailesh Gandhi, an entrepreneur and RTI Activist, are the only ones with a civil society background.

TWO BORDERLINE CASES: M L Sharma is a former IPS officer. Padma Balasubramanian had an Indian Postal Service background.

Except for these four, all CICs have PMO, DOPT and Information & Broadcasting ministry writ large on their biodatas.

THE CHIEF IS A GANDHI FAMILY LOYALIST. Chief CIC Wajahat Habibullah’s resume on the CIC website has “loyalist” written everywhere:

* June 1982-September'87: Director and then Joint Secretary, Prime Minister's Office. Dealt with public relations, with the special programmes for poverty alleviation and relief programmes. Participated in ensuring the smooth transition of functioning after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (October 1985). Accompanied the Prime Ministers on tours in India.
* Oct 1991-July '93: Secretary, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, set up after the assassination of the former Prime Minister. This is today a premier NGO in India.
* Nov 1994-August '99: Minister, Community Affairs, Embassy of India, Washington DC. Piloted Bill in Congress and subsequent clearances for establishment of Gandhi Memorial in Washington DC.
* Awards include Rajiv Gandhi Award for Excellence in Secularism-1994
* Publications include: Kashmir, Rajiv Gandhi's India Vol. I Politics Ch. I and The Islands, Rajiv Gandhi's India Vol. I Politics, Ch. II, UBS Publishers, 1998.


· A N Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra were both DoPT Secretaries before becoming Information Commissioner. The interesting thing is that although A N Tiwari was appointed as CIC along with Wajahat Habibullah in October ‘05, he waited until he turned 60 in end-December ’05, retired from government service, and then took up his office as CIC. When he retires from CIC’s post in end-2010, he will be almost exactly 65 years to the day – squeezing the last drop of his residual service life!

· Before becoming CIC, O P Kejriwal was Director General of All India Radio and earlier, CEO Prasar Bharati. Mrs Deepak Sandhu was working as Press Advisor to the Prime Minister. Mrs Sushma Singh was Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. Putting it bluntly, they were all spokespersons and Public Relations Officers of Govt of India.

· Mrs Omita Paul was briefly CIC between May and June ’09, when she was between two assignments as Advisor to Pranab Mukherjee. Besides her closeness to Pranab Mukherjee – her bureaucratic career closely tracing his ministerial career over a 30-year span starting 1980 – she worked with the Information & Broadcasting ministry for about a decade. When not working in Pranab babu’s ministries, she held positions in All India Radio, Doordarshan, Press Information Bureau etc. In other words, she too was a government spokesperson and PRO.

· Mrs Annapurna Dixit was wife of late J N Dixit, who expired in January 2005. He was National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister. Making her Central Information Commissioner in October 2005 was evidently PMO’s way of posthumously rewarding Mr Dixit for services rendered, and offering condolences to Mrs Dixit.

So where is the question of Prime Minister’s committee selecting CICs as per the criteria set out in Section 12(5)? DoPT is handling CIC selections exactly as it handles all government transfers & appointments! For all practical purposes, the Central Information Commission is just another government department, manned by hard-nosed bureaucrats and loyalists! Given the present method of appointment, our chances of getting independent and unbiased Information Commissioners are close to zero. Also, our chances are being appointed as CICs as per section 12(5), or of successfully nominating other members of civil society, are pitifully thin.

This, my friends, is the reason some of us from different parts of India have filed a PIL before Delhi High Court for transparent appointment of CIC. Read it and think.



98215 88114
Courtesy: Yahoogroup [rti4empowerment]


The Gandhi Memorial in Washington DC is a memorilal to another Gandhi altogether, who went by the title of Mahatma. And yes, I do try to remain worthy of his legacy
Indeed I realized that mistake, Mr Habibullah, although belatedly. Nonetheless, the charge about your being a Gandhi family loyalist stands.

No personal malice intended -- just an observation.



wajahat said...

The Gandhi Memorial in Washington DC is a memorilal to another Gandhi altogether, who went by the title of Mahatma. And yes, I do try to remain worthy of his legacy

Sahasi Padyatri said...

Indeed I realized that mistake, Mr Habibullah, although belatedly. Nonetheless, the charge about your being a Gandhi family loyalist stands.

No personal malice intended -- just an observation.


Prakash said...

I have heard this story (or could be a joke also) from my father. “ An ICS officer was appointed as civil surgeon. He operated upon a patient and patient died. Explanation was called for to which the Civil surgeon replied ‘operation was successful but patient did not co-operate’. The story in few words explains why RTI Act given in the hands of bureaucrats ( who have headed the administration for all these years) can never achieve its’ objective i.e. to make government officials accountable and curb corruption. My personal experience of filing an Appeal before CIC is that no matter how genuine your case may be ICS/IAS legacy very appropriately explained in the above story is only one of the hundred ways of saying ‘aal is well’ and dismiss the Appeal. There was earlier provision of review that has also been removed. So only way is to Appeal in HC which is beyond the financial means of ordinary citizen. Prakash Deval