Despite the Supreme Court having ordered transparency in the appointments of information commissioners, the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), which is also the implementer of the RTI Act, stonewalled information on this issue; only to be admonished by the Central Information Commission (CIC), which has ordered it to provide the details sought under RTI.
CIC Divya Prakash, in his order, observed that “. . . this kind of conduct amounts to stonewalling RTI applications and stifling the very letter and spirit of the RTI Act . By resorting to such unwarranted opacity, DoPT is setting a bad example for other public authorities and at the same time is discrediting its own footing as the nodal agency for the implementation of the RTI Act.’’
While warning the CPIO of DoPT not to take the RTI applications so casually, he also observed in his order that, “It is also ironic that the information that has been denied in the instant case pertained to the appointment of information commissioners under the RTI Act, who are ordained with the statutory authority of securing the regime of transparency.’’
Information sought under RTI, relates to two complaints to the CIC made by the Delhi based RTI activist, Lokesh Batra, after the CPIO failed to provide information, citing the rejection clause in the Act.
Batra requisitioned from the DoPT, certified copies of all communications (in the available format) between DoPT and PMO, concerning the appointment of information commissioners (ICs) in the CIC and; secondly, he sought certified copies of communication(s) seeking approval from PMO, regarding the framing of RTI Rules, 2017.’’
In his reply, the CPIO replied that the matter related to the appointment of ICs in the CIC is under process and so, as per Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act, 2005, “the information cannot be given at this stage.’’
Batra rued that despite the DoPT being the nodal agency for implementing the provisions of the RTI Act, the blatant application of exemptions of Section 8 by its CPIOs is akin to stalling RTI requistions.”
Batra appealed to the CIC to take strict action against the CPIO and consider imposing penalty on him.
At the CIC hearing held recently, CIC Divya Prakash Sinha asked Sanjay Kumar, under secretary & CPIO of DoPT, for justification for the denial of information under Section 8(1)(i) of RTI Act. He passed the buck to the earlier CPIO, Preeti Khanna, (under secretary & CPIO). She had replied to Batra that the process of appointment of CIC and ICs was underway at that time. In addition, the documents, asked for by Batra, were to be submitted to the search committee (committee of secretaries); subsequently, it was to be submitted to the committee chaired by the prime minister, leader of the opposition and a union cabinet minister.
The CIC ruled that the both the CPIOs’ reasons for denying information appears 'incoherent' and “does not convey any substantial justification for invoking Section 8(1) (i) of RTI Act.’’ CIC has slammed both the former and present CPIO on “their sheer evasiveness and non-application of mind in dealing with the instant RTI application.”
Admonishing the then CPIO for invoking Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act without assessing its applicability, he warned the present CPIO against mindlessly endorsing the reply of the then CPIO.
The RTI Act 2005, Section 8(1)(i) reads :
cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the council of ministers, secretaries and other officers:
Provided that the decisions of the council of ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over:
Provided further that those matters which come under the exemptions specified in this section shall not be disclosed;
- Under Section 12(3) of the RTI, Act, 2005; the selection of chief information commissioner and information commissioners in CIC, are made by the President based on the recommendations of committee consisting of the PM, the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha and a union cabinet minister to be nominated by the prime minister.
- On the other hand, the cabinet papers are prepared for the union cabinet’s consideration and approval, while that is not the case with process of selection and appointments of information commissioners in the CIC.
- It makes it abundantly clear that documents concerned with the selection / appointment of information commissioners are in no way ‘cabinet papers’ as stated by the CPIO for exemption under Section 8(1)(i) of the Act.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”