Are Qualified Commissioners Being Appointed in India?

6 July 2012

By Shonali Ghosal

Ghosal is a correspondent with Tehelka where this article first appeared.

Last month, on 9 June, Ratnakar Gaikwad, former chief secretary, Maharashtra, was sworn in as the state’s Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). Curiously, his appointment came just over a week after his retirement as chief secretary. This, after the post of CIC had been lying vacant close to 10 months since Vilas Patil retired in July 2011. Among the duties of the chief secretary is to ensure the smooth functioning of the state’s Information Commission, the most basic requisite for which would be to fill up the post of CIC.

Three days into his appointment, a six-member RTI activist team met Gaikwad to discuss their objections to his appointment. “We told him that his appointment is illegal on various criteria, including his involvement in the Adarsh scam and the fact that there was no public call for applications for the post. He was basically rewarded with this post for killing RTI. How can he pass fair orders on Mantralaya, one week after retiring from it?” asks Anil Galgali, one of the activists. On 16 January, when Gaikwad was chief secretary, an amendment passed — without any public notification — restricted the number of subject matters on RTI applications to one and the word count to a maximum of 150 words, making it additionally difficult for RTI applicants to express their concerns.

Gaikwad is the latest addition to the ever-expanding list of retired bureaucrats that seem to chance upon postings in the State Information Commissions (SIC). A recent study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) claims that as much as 90 percent of serving CICs are retired civil servants. A look at the brief resumés of all current CICs in each state lends credence to this claim.

According to the RTI Act: “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 government.”

One can’t help but wonder where the persons of eminence in the categories outside the government are?

It is not illegal for bureaucrats to occupy these posts. However, to monopolise these posts to narrow (if not eliminate entirely) the chance for people disconnected from government services to make the cut, is what is befuddling. Central CIC Satyananda Mishra (also a retired IAS officer) is quoted as saying that “there is no one better than a government official who can see through a department and has the knowledge and the expertise required for it”.

“Is eminence only to be found in civil servants? What about doctors, engineers, media professionals, why can’t they be brought in?” asks Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator of the Access to Information Programme, CHRI.

Section 15 (6) of the RTI Act says that the Commissioner should not be an MP or MLA, connected with any political party, carrying on any business or pursuing any profession. But it does not say how “politically connected” an applicant has to be for him to be disqualified from applying. Andhra Pradesh CIC Jannat Hussain served as principal secretary to former CMs YS Rajasekhara Reddy and K Rosaiah before landing this post. Is that connection enough? Kerala CIC Siby Matthews, who after just three months of being promoted to DGP (Fire and Rescue Services), took voluntary retirement to join the Information Commission when he had about a year of service left.

In February, Andhra Pradesh had appointed eight Information Commissioners (ICs), three of whom — Tanta Kumari, Imtiaz Ahmed and M Vijay Nirmala — had direct political connections to the extent that they had contested elections or been ticket- seekers. The others included two retired and one serving civil servant. Despite the conflict of interest, when activists met Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy to voice their concerns, they were “told to be happy because the previous four ICs were all upper castes but this time there was one each from SC, ST and the minority and two from backward classes”.

Ahmedabad-based RTI activist Babubhai Vaghela wrote to the Governor and prime minister asking for the basis for appointing former chief secretary D Rajagopalan as Gujarat CIC. “RTI is meant for transparency and accountability and therefore ICs should also be appointed in a transparent manner. It’s not any one state’s fault, it’s the system,” he says. “Bureaucrats work under secrecy when they are part of the government, how can we expect them to be transparent? But if some qualities have been laid out and they meet them, they should become eligible for consideration. You can’t handpick them without a public notice.”

This throws up the larger issue of the flawed and opaque procedure of appointing ICs both at the Central and state levels. As per the rules laid down by the RTI Act, appointment to State Information Commissions must be made by the chief minister, leader of Opposition and one Cabinet minister chosen by the chief minister. The list of those shortlisted from the applicants is then sent to the Governor who confirms and notifies the appointment.

Similarly, appointments to the Central Information Commission are decided by the Prime Minister, leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and a Union Cabinet minister chosen by the PM. But even procedures aren’t transparent.

Hyderabad-based RTI activist CJ Karira applied for the post of Central CIC to find out the procedure and the criteria. “The first criterion is that there are no criteria,” says Central IC Shailesh Gandhi.

According to Gandhi, there should, in the first place, be a system to criticise. “You can’t just say that all bureaucrats are bad or all journalists are good, that’s just too simplistic,” he argues. “The Department of Personnel and Training puts up advertisements, but it gives no criteria. Let’s have a shortlist, publicise it, expose the applicants to public debates and discussions. That’s the way to raise the standard.” The question is: in the absence of a transparent or concrete appointment process, what standards are we to raise?

ANNEX

The following list, entitled “Information Overload,” accompanied the article.

ANDHRA PRADESH: JANNAT HUSSAIN (Retd IAS) Former principal secretary in the Chief Minister’s Office

ARUNACHAL PRADESH: YD THONGCHI (Retd IAS) Former secretary to chief minister, Cultural Affairs and Tourism

ASSAM: DEEPAK NARAIN DUTTA (Retd IPS) Former DGP, Assam

BIHAR: ASHOK KUMAR CHAUDHURY (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary and Chairman, Bihar State Public Service Commission

CHHATTISGARH: SERGIUS MINJ (Retd IAS) Former additional chief secretary, Agriculture

GOA: MOTILAL SANVLO KENY, Retired civil and sessions judge

GUJARAT: D RAJAGOPALAN (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

HARYANA: NARESH GULATI (Retd IAS) Former financial commissioner and principal secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management

HIMACHAL PRADESH: BHIM SEN, (Retd IAS) Former principal secretary

J&K: GR SUFI (Retd IRS) Former chief income tax commissioner (Amritsar circle)

JHARKHAND: Justice DK SINHA, Former judge, Jharkhand HC

KARNATAKA: AKM NAYAK (Retd IAS), Former addl chief secretary

KERALA: SIBY MATHEWS (Retd IPS) Former DGP (Fire & Rescue Services)

MADHYA PRADESH*: PP TIWARI (Retd IAS), Former principal secretary (Law) retired on 26 March 2012

MAHARASHTRA: RATNAKAR GAIKWAD (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

MANIPUR*: BIRENDRA SINGH (Retd IAS) Former commissioner, Revenue

MEGHALAYA: CD KYNJING, (Retd IAS), Former principal secretary

MIZORAM: LALDINGLIANA, (Retd IFS) Former Indian Ambassador to Venezuela

NAGALAND: LALHUMA, (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

ODISHA: TK MISHRA (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

PUNJAB: RAMESH INDER SINGH (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

RAJASTHAN: T SRINIVASAN (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

SIKKIM: NARI TSHERING (Retd IAS) Former secretary, Sikkim Legislative Assembly

TAMIL NADU: KS SRIPATHI (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

TRIPURA*: SHASHI PRAKASH (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

UTTAR PRADESH: RANJIT SINGH PANKAJ (Retd IAS) Former secretary, Mines

UTTARAKHAND: NS NAPALCHYAL (Retd IAS) Former chief secretary

WEST BENGAL: SUJIT KUMAR Sarkar (Retd IPS) Former DGP

* The CIC’s post in these states are currently vacant

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