Friday, December 24, 2010

Congress does it again - Now appoints tainted CIC after CVC P J Thomas

Source : Daily Pioneer

After the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the selection and appointment of the Chief Information Comm-issioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners have come under the judicial scanner.

Issuing notice to the Centre on a petition filed by Right to Information (RTI) activist Arvind Kejriwal, the Supreme Court has sought a response to the allegations of arbitrariness, nepotism and mala fide practices in appointing the CIC and Information Commissioners since 2005, when the RTI Act came into effect.

What has come as another embarrassment to the Government is the apex court’s questioning of the appointments made at the highest level by a high-power selection committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. Earlier, Kejriwal failed to convince the Delhi High Court to hear his plea. The appeal has been entertained by the Supreme Court against the order of dismissal passed by the high court on October 20.

Since enactment of the RTI Act, 2005, a CIC and 12 Information Commissioners have been appointed by the PM-chaired committee, which also comprises Leader of the Opposition and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.

Kejriwal’s petition demanded an elaborate set of rules to govern the process of identifying, shortlisting and forwarding names for CIC appointments which has, by far, remained the exclusive preserve of the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) — the nodal Ministry administering CIC.

Kejriwal’s petition noted that on April 6, 2009, DoPT forwarded the name of Omita Paul as Information Commissioner and it was endorsed by the committee. Paul has been working with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for three decades, so her name was cleared just before breaking for parliamentary elections.

With Mukherjee returning to the Finance Ministry, Paul joined as his adviser. She tendered her resignation on June 26, 2009, and the Information Commissioner’s post lay vacant till November 2009.

What’s worse is how DoPT assumed the powers of the selection committee while the PM-headed panel was reduced to merely an endorsement body. Some of the Information Commissioners appointed in the past were not recommended in the list prepared by DoPT, while many DoPT Secretaries got their names included in the list sent to the selection committee.

The petition pointed out that in August 2008, six shortlisted names were sent for approval to the PM-led committee. One of the lesser known members who made a surprise entry into the list was Annapurna Dixit, widow of former National Security Adviser JN Dixit.

The final list also included one SN Mishra, who was nowhere in the running for the post. The then DoPT Secretary, he forwarded his own name to the committee.

This is not the first such instance of conflict of interest. In October 2005, when the first round of appointments was made, AN Tiwari — who had been entrusted with the task of preparing the list — added his own name and succeeded to the post, ensuring a term of five years.

In the absence of rules for selection and appointment governing CIC, Kejriwal cited instances of how the Government was parking its favoured officials, who have had a past history of opposing transparency in Government functioning, thus rendering the Act futile.

As DoPT Secretary, Tiwari was the officer who recommended “file noting” to be excluded from the ambit of information. With just three months for him to retire, he was promoted to CIC by the Centre, causing the petitioner to doubt if the post of the CIC was gradually dying a slow death.

Finding the allegations worth examining, a Bench of Justices DK Jain and HL Dattu issued notice to DoPT, seeking their response in four weeks. The matter — expected to be taken up on reopening of the apex court — has come at a time when the Centre is already defending the appointment of CVC PJ Thomas, whose name was pushed by a committee chaired by PM despite a criminal case pending against him.

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