The Information Commission should not be reduced as post retirement seat for the bureaucrats
As per the newspaper reports, the Central Government has released the list of the Information Commissioners who are going to fill the vacant positions at the Central Information Commission.
1. Mr. Suresh Chandra (former Union Law Secretary) IAS
2. Ms. Vanaja Sarna (former Chairperson, CBIC) IRS
3. Mr. YK Sinha (former High Commissioner to UK) IFS
4. Mr. Neeraj Gupta (former Disinvestment Secretary) IAS
While there is nothing personally against these officials, the appointment raises certain questions which require deep consideration.
1. Role of Information Commission -
The Information Commission is supposed to play a pivotal role in enforcing transparency and ensure that the provisions of the RTI Act are implemented by the public authorities in the true spirit. The officials, generally, are on the other side of the table who tend not to disclose the information as it infringes on their powers. As a part of their tenure in the services, the officers tend to be suspicious of disclosure and such intrinsic behaviour is not likely to change overnight. As Information Commissioners, they would be required to adjudicate against government officials and an inherent bias cannot be ruled out. The Information Commission requires a balance of people from different walks of life who can ensure a practical regime of disclosure as envisaged in the RTI Act, 2005.
2. Composition of Information Commission -
The Section 12 (5) requires that,
“The Chief Information Commissioner and 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 governance”.
There has been a heavy reliance on the retired bureaucrats to fill the position of the Information Commissioner. The term “eminence in public life” has somehow become synonymous with the number of years put in the government service. Was there not a single individual outside the bureaucracy who was suitable to fill the slot?
3. Verdict of Supreme Court in Review petition of the Namit Sharma case –
a) The Supreme Court made some observations in the review judgment which are worth remembering. The Court observed,
“30. Nonetheless, the selection and appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners has not been left entirely to the discretion of the Central Government and the State Government under Sections 12 and 15 of the Act. Sections 12(3) and 15(3) provide that the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners shall be appointed by the President or the Governor, as the case may be, on the recommendation of the Committee named therein. Sections 12(5) and 15(5) provide that Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners have to be persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in the different fields mentioned therein, namely, law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance”.
Hence, the appointment of the Information Commissioners is not entirely discretionary but depends on definite parameters.
b) Further, in the order portion in para 32, the Supreme Court directed as under:
“(iv) We further direct that persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in all the fields mentioned in Sections 12(5) and 15(5) of the Act, namely, law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media or administration and governance, be considered by the Committees under Sections 12(3) and 15(3) of the Act for appointment as Chief Information Commissioner or Information Commissioners.
(v) We further direct that the Committees under Sections 12(3) and 15(3) of the Act while making recommendations to the President or to the Governor, as the case may be, for appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners must mention against the name of each candidate recommended, the facts to indicate his eminence in public life, his knowledge in the particular field and his experience in the particular field and these facts must be accessible to the citizens as part of their right to information under the Act after the appointment is made.”
The actual order of the appointment of Information Commissioners is still awaited and it would only then be seen whether against the name of each candidate recommended, the facts to indicate his eminence in public life, is mentioned in the order.
But it is clear that the Namit Sharma judgment has not been followed in the appointments made. The judgment implies that the appointees to the post of Information Commission should be from all the fields namely law, science and technology, social service, management, journalism, mass media and not merely “administration and governance” which is the case now. There is hardly any representation of any field other than “administration and governance” currently and this implies a blatant violation of the Supreme Court order.
4. Age of the Information Commissioners –
Sadly, the appointments give a signal that the wisdom rests in people beyond the age of 60. I have nothing against the senior citizens but a combination of youth and maturity would be best for any organisation.
5. Parking lot for the retired bureaucrats –
It would be highly unfair for an organisation with a specific mandate like that of Information Commission, to be inundated with retired officials which may be perceived as a reward of the services rendered during their regular service period. No doubt, some of the officers are outstanding and can play a constructive role in the functioning of the Information Commission by their long experience, but their role has to be limited. There is certainly no place for filling almost all the posts of Information Commission only through the pool of retired officers. Indeed, none of the retired officers have made their mark in any manner as far as the enforcement of the RTI Act, 2005 is concerned. They have already served the nation enough, why put an extra burden of 5 years on them.
The government in power, irrespective of the party affiliation, has been guarded while dealing with appointment in the Information Commission, which is not appropriate for the building of the institution. Should the Supreme Court need to be revisited to enforce the Namit Sharma judgment?
There are many vacancies which remain to be filled in the Central Information Commission, (also in the State Information Commissions) and it can only be hoped that the next round of appointment would be proper.
Amarendra Pal Singh