Article appeared on July 11, 2015 in MAIL TODAY
Article appeared on July 11, 2015 in MAIL TODAY

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has seldom shied away from referring to India’s ‘demographic dividend’ and goading the youth to do more, the top bureaucrats running his administration share little of his enthusiasm. Documents reveal that when it came to curbing corruption and empowerment of citizens by filling key posts at the Central Information Commission, bureaucrats chose to introduce an arbitrary provision to keep the youth out. They instead opted to empower retired government servants. This occurred in the much-delayed and recently-concluded selection for the post of one Chief  Information Commissioner and three Information Commissioners (ICs).

An application under the Right to Information Act of 2005 (RTI), filed by retired naval officer, Commodore Lokesh Batra has unearthed nearly 250 pages of the official correspondence for the same.

For selection to posts like CIC and ICs, the RTI Act 2005 seeks “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”. Based on this, applications were invited. 203 applications were received for the post of CIC and 553 for the three posts of ICs. Documents reveal that of the entire lot, over 400 applications were made by people from categories like Law, Management, Science and Technology, Journalism, Social Service and others. However in a meeting of the ‘Search Committee’ on January 16, 2015, “…the committee had decided to further consider the detailed applications of persons with experience of 30  years and above”. Having done this, in a subsequent ‘Search Committee’ meeting on April 25, 2015, three retired government servants were shortlisted for one CIC post and nine were shortlisted by three IC posts, no other applications from  any sector specified in the act were found eligible for short-listing. It was based on this short-listing that on June 1, PM Modi, Finance Minister Jaitley and Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge made the final selection of Vijai Sharma as the CIC and Sudhir Bhargava as Information Commissioner. Incidentally since Vijai Sharma was elevated from the post of Information Commissioner to CIC and only one appointment was made to the post of IC, vacancies in CIC remained for three ICs.

“This process of rejecting the names of applicants on this ground has clearly violated the basic right of a citizen of ‘equality to status and of opportunity’ granted by our constitution. This should be challenged in the court,” said Commodore Batra. He also termed the process an ‘eyewash’ since the new CIC has “just 100 working days” before he retired. Former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi remarked, ” The selection process is being fixed so that the Commission becomes a senior citizens club! Yes, it does look as if they want a smaller number applying and favouring retired persons. A larger problem is that the Commissioners are not working fully and efficiently.”

The committee consisted of former Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Home Secy LC Goyal, Expenditure Secy Ratan Watal, DoPT Secy Sanjay Kothari, Additional PS to PM PK Mishra & Director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy, Prof Naresh Chand. When asked for their comments, with questions sent on email, none of the members of the committee responded.

Shortlisted for CIC

Atul Kumar Gupta, retired IAS officer and former UP Chief Secretary
Dinesh Kumar rehrotra, Retired LIC Chairman
Vijai Sharma, retired IAS officer

Shortlisted for IC

Ashish Bahuguna, retired  IAS
Sudhir Bhargava, retired IAS
Amitava Bhattacharya, retired IAS
Stuti Narain Kacker, retired IAS
Dr SS Mantha, Former Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education
Rajan K Medhekar, retired IPS
Vijaya Moorthy, retired Indian Audit and Accounts Service officer
Dr Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, retired IAS
R Venkateswarlu, retired Indian Information Service officer



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