BY KRISHNARAJ RAO
Documents procured by activists Girish Mittal and Lokesh Batra under the Right to Information (RTI) indicate that the latest batch of Central Information Commissioners (Rajiv Mathur, Vijai Sharma and Basant Seth) were selected by a more transparent process than selections of the past.
The central government has definitely mended its ways and set a good precedent for state governments. By calling for applications and having applications screened by a Search Committee, the government has yielded to two long standing demands of RTI activists.
However, it appears that Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj short-circuited the process. She put up two names that were not selected by the Search Committee, and one of them became a CIC. New CICs Rajiv Mathur and Vijai Sharma were on a shortlist of nine persons after a screening process for 214 contenders. But new CIC Basant Seth was eliminated by the Search Committee, and re-entered the shortlist as Sushma Swaraj’s candidate, documents acquired through RTI suggests.
Process followed this time:
- On October 29 2011, DoPT issued this circular inviting applications from all eligible persons, including civil society.
- From the applications received before the final date, a list of all 214 applicants was drawn up.
- The Search Committee seemingly evaluated 214 applicants “on the basis of width, diversity, relevance and length of experience of the applicants, with some preference for legal background and strategic exposure”. Also, inputs were sought from Intelligence Bureau and Central Vigilance Commission. All this is stated in the minutes of the Selection Committee meeting on 23 February 2012.
Documents mentioned below will be able to throw more light on the selection process.
- Copies of all correspondence between DOPT and PMO concerning constituting Search Committee, defining its terms of reference, etc.
- Copies of documents showing the criteria and procedure used by the Search Committee for screening the 214 names and arriving at the shortlist of nine names.
- What inputs were solicited and received by the PMO, Selection Committee and/or Screening Committee from IB and CVC? Copies of all correspondence, reports received etc.
- Copies of all correspondence by Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj with PMO, Search Committee, Selection Committee and candidates for the CIC’s post.
Notwithstanding possible deficiencies of the process followed in this round of selections, it is far better than earlier selections when A N Tiwari (now retired) and Satyananda Mishra (now the Chief CIC), who were both DoPT Secretaries, selected themselves for the post of Information Commissioner. Tiwari and Mishra disregarded dozens of applications addressed to them and made the shortlist list so short that it reduced the Prime Minister’s Selection Committee into a mere rubber stamp. (Click here to understand ethical and legal issues in selecting CICs)
The present changes in selection procedure are the result of an ongoing struggle since 2009. (Click here to read background info on this)
(Krishnaraj Rao is an RTI activist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap)