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Transparency? Modi govt "refused" to divulge information on Lokpal selection process

Counterview Desk
The National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), in a letter to the Lokpal Selection Committee, which consists of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its chairperson, and members, chief justice Ranjan Gogoi, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, and eminent jurist Shri Mukul Rohatgi, has taken strong exception to alleged lack of transparency in the selection of chair and members of the Lokpal.
Appointed in March 2019, based on the recommendations made by the selection committee, chair and members of the Lokpal were appointed, says NCPRI, under the Lokpal & Lokayuktas (L&L) Act, 2013, which states that “the selection committee shall regulate its own procedure in a transparent manner for selecting the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal.”
"However", contends the letter, "There appears to be no information in the public domain about any process put in place by the selection committee in accordance with section 4(4) of the law. Further, despite the passage of nearly two months since the appointment of chair and members of the Lokpal, relevant information about the selection process has not been made available to people."
"Further", continues the letter, "Information sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, including names of applicants, names of candidates recommended by the search committee and minutes of selection committee meetings, has been denied to citizens."
Signed by senior RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Shekhar Singh, Shailesh Gandhi, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Pankti Jog, Pradip Pradhan, Rakesh Dubbudu, and others, the letter urges the committee to take immediate steps to make public the procedure adopted, if any, to ensure transparency in the selection process as envisaged in section 4(4) of the L&L Act.

Text of the letter:

The Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act 2013 was enacted to set up an independent and empowered anti-corruption institution to tackle cases involving allegations of corruption against public servants, including high level functionaries. We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of transparency in the process of selection of the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal.
Sub-section 4 of section 4 of the L&L Act mandates that the Lokpal Selection Committee should regulate its procedure in a transparent manner. The provision states that, “(4) The Selection Committee shall regulate its own procedure in a transparent manner for selecting the Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal.”
Unfortunately, there appears to be no information in the public domain about any process put in place by the Selection Committee in accordance with section 4(4) of the law. Lack of transparency, despite the statutory provision in the L&L Act, was highlighted in the contempt petition filed before the Supreme Court by Common Cause. The bench headed by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, in its order dated March 7, 2019, held that it was the Court’s considered view that no direction should be issued in this regard and that the matter should be left for determination by the Selection Committee.
The Chair and Members of the Lokpal were subsequently appointed in March 2019. Despite the passage of nearly two months, relevant information about the selection process has not been made available to people. Further, information sought under the Right to Information Act, including names of applicants, names of candidates recommended by the Search Committee and minutes of Selection Committee meetings, has been denied to citizens.
Minutes of meetings of the selection panel were denied stating, “as regards the minutes of the meetings it is submitted that the authorship of such documents which in level dignitaries does not vest in the Department of Personnel & Training and same have been shared as secret documents. Thus copies of the said documents cannot be provided...”
The need for transparency in the appointment process of oversight bodies has been upheld by the Supreme Court in several cases. In February 2019, the Court gave a significant judgment to ensure transparency in the appointment of information commissioners under the RTI Act. It directed the proactive disclosure of details of the selection process, including criteria adopted for short-listing.
Opacity in the process of appointments erodes public trust in institutions. We urge the committee to take immediate steps to make public the procedure adopted, if any, to ensure transparency in the selection process as envisaged in section 4(4) of the L&L Act. Further, we request the committee to ensure that all relevant information related to the appointment of the Chair and Members of the Lokpal made in March 2019, including particulars of applicants, shortlisting criteria, minutes of meetings of the Search and Selection Committee and material showing how the selected candidates fulfil the eligibility criteria, also be placed in the public domain to enable scrutiny of the appointment process.
We hope you will urgently take note of the issues highlighted above and take appropriate action.

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