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Govt of India "undermines" transparency in appointing information commissioners

Mallikakarjun Kharge, Modi
Counterview Desk
Several concerned citizens write to the Selection Committee responsible for recommending names of Central Information Commissioners (CICs), expressing strong reservations about the process followed by the government for inviting applications and short-listing candidates for the posts of information commissioners in the CIC.
Addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is chairperson of the selection committee and to Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha and a member of the selection committee, the letter states that the advertisements, and the accompanying notifications issued by the government inviting applications for vacant posts in CIC, were not in keeping with the Right to Information (RTI) Act, as they did not specify the salaries, allowances and other conditions of service and tenure of information commissioners as provided for in the law.
The letter adds, the tenure and salaries of information commissioners not being defined in the advertisements issued by the government would have dissuaded many people of eminence from applying, thereby compromising the appointment procedure.
The letter further says that the procedure of short-listing candidates has been shrouded in secrecy with even basic information about applications received in response to the advertisements and details about the functioning of the search committee, being denied under the RTI Act, urging the committee to ensure that the advertisement is suitably rectified and re-issued with immediate effect.
Currently, eight out of 11 posts of information commissioners, including that of the Chief Information Commissioner, are lying vacant in CIC.

Text of the letter:

According to media reports, the committee to select information commissioners is scheduled to meet on December 11, 2018, to decide names for posts of four information commissioners and the chief information commissioner of the Central Information Commission.
We are writing to express our strong reservations about the process of inviting applications and short listing candidates followed by the government, which we believe has compromised the appointment procedure.
The government issued an advertisement inviting applications for the post of 4 information commissioners on July 26, 2018. Another advertisement, dated October 23, 2018, was issued for the post of the chief information commissioner. Both advertisements, and the accompanying notifications, were not in keeping with the RTI Act as they did not specify the salaries, allowances and other conditions of service and tenure of information commissioners as provided for in the law. 
The notifications stated that the salary, allowances and other terms and conditions of service “shall be as may be specified at the time of appointment of the selected candidate/s”. This is at variance with the provisions of the RTI Act. 
The law states that the Chief Information Commissioner and information commissioners shall be persons of eminence in public life. Sections 13(2) and 13(5) specify that the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the chief and other information commissioners of the Central Information Commission, shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner and election commissioners, respectively. The chief and other election commissioners are paid a salary equal to the salary of a judge of the Supreme Court, which is decided by Parliament. Further, the RTI Act provides for a fixed tenure of 5 years for information commissioners, subject to a retirement age of 65 years. It is pertinent to note that previous notifications of vacancies specified the salary, terms of service and tenure of commissioners as per the provisions of the RTI Act.
The tenure and salaries of information commissioners not being defined in the advertisements issued by the government, would have dissuaded many people of eminence from applying. As a result, the selection committee will not have the benefit on selecting from a comprehensive pool of candidates.
It is, therefore, crucial that the government suitably rectify and re-issue the advertisement for the posts. This must be done with immediate effect, since eight out of eleven posts of information commissioners in the Central Information Commission are lying vacant.
Further, the procedure of short-listing candidates has been shrouded in secrecy. Information sought under the RTI Act, about applications received in response to the advertisements issued for the position of information commissioners and details about the functioning of the search committee, was illegally denied by the Department of Personnel & Training, which stated: 
“The matter regarding appointment of Information Commissioners, Central Information Commission is under consideration and has not reached finality. As per section 8(1) (i) of the RTI Act, 2005, information requested by you cannot be supplied at this stage”.
Lack of transparency in the appointment process of information commissioners in the CIC would erode public trust in the institution, which plays a pivotal role in the implementation of the RTI Act.
We, therefore, urge you to ensure that all vacancies in the Central Information Commission are filled in a transparent, time-bound manner as per the provisions of the RTI Act.
---
*Anjali Bhardwaj, Aruna Roy, Wajahat Habibullah, Shekhar Singh, Shailesh Gandhi, Nikhil Dey, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Venkatesh Nayak, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog, Pradip Pradhan, Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd), Amrita Johri

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