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CIC Appointments Challenged

Published on Mon, Mar 12,2012 | 22:35, Updated at Tue, Mar 13 at 15:22Source : 

E. A. S. Sarma, Former Secretary to the Government of India, has written to the President of India challenging the appointment of Vijai Sharma and Rajiv Mathur as Central Information Commissioners.

The letter is reproduced below with Mr Sarma’s permission.

Smt. Pratibha Patil
President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi

Dear Rashtrapatiji,

I write this letter as a citizen deeply concerned at the way the government has acted in making appointments to the office of the Central Information Commission (CIC) during the last few days.

I specifically refer to the appointment of Shri Vijai Sharma, former member of the National Green Tribunal and Shri Rajiv Mathur, former Director of Intelligence Bureau (IB).

The apex court of the country has interpreted the ambit of Article 19 of the Constitution to be wide enough to include the citizen’s fundamental right to know about the functioning of the government and the various public authorities associated with it. This has laid the foundation for the enactment of Right to Information Act (RTIA) in 2005.

The primary objective of RTIA is to promote transparency in the functioning of all public authorities in the Central and the State Governments. In order to uphold the spirit of RTIA, the government is expected to ensure that the procedures adopted for selecting the members of the Central and the State Information Commissions remain transparent, based on a set of reasonable criteria disclosed to the public in advance, make sure that the candidates chosen as Information Commissioners have a credible track record in upholding the spirit of transparency in their earlier assignments and ensure that they have no possible conflict of interest in the discharge of their responsibilities as Information Commissioners.

To the best of my knowledge, the Central Government has not fully complied with these requirements in the selection of most of the Central Information Commissioners appointed so far since the inception of the Act in 2005. The criteria and the procedures adopted for the selection have remained wholly non-transparent. The far reaching observations made sometime ago by the apex court in the case against the appointment of Shri P. J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner apply as much to the appointment of the Information Commissioners.

In the two specific cases of appointment of Information Commissioners cited above, the following are my concerns.

1. The procedure adopted in selecting both Shri Vijai Sharma and Shri Rajiv Mathur has been non-transparent, and not based on any reasonable criteria.

2. There is no material available in the public domain to show that there were no better qualified candidates whose cases were considered for these appointments, giving rise to the widespread feeling that there were extraneous considerations that prompted the government to provide such highly remunerative, post retirements assignments to both these officers.

3. Shri Vijai Sharma had earlier functioned as Secretary in the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MOEF). Later, he was inducted as a member into the newly constituted National Green Tribunal (NGT), a statutory authority, despite the possibility of his having conflict-of-interest, as he would then have to adjudicate on decisions taken by him in his earlier assignment. He hardly completed one year as a part of NGT before the government chose to appoint him as a Central Information Commissioner, a position that carried a higher status and enhanced emoluments. Such an appointment is prima facie inappropriate as it could imply an indirect inducement offered to a sitting member of NGT before whom the government appeared as a party in cases relating to environment. While such an appointment would erode the credibility of CIC as an institution, it would also create a reasonable ground for doubting the credibility of NGT as a quasi-judicial authority which is required to act impartially.

4. Shri Rajiv Mathur was the Director of IB, an institution explicitly exempted from the applicability of RTIA under Section 24. His appointment has therefore sent a negative message on the government’s commitment to ensure promotion of transparency. I am certain that there are several other candidates both with government and non-government backgrounds who are better qualified and better suited for this assignment.

As a person campaigning at the grass-roots level to promote the RTIA as an instrument to provide good governance, I feel that the government has the obligation not only to review both these appointments but also put in place procedures and conventions that are consistent with the spirit of transparency underlying Article 19 and RTIA.

Your timely intervention will go a long way towards strengthening the institutions created under the Right to Information Act.

Yours sincerely,
E.A.S. Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt. of India
March 9, 2012


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