Skip to main content

Complaints against CIC: DoPT to set up panels, but won't be part with proposal


By Venkatesh Nayak*
Readers may remember the controversy created by the Central Government’s proposal to set up two committees to inquire into complaints against serving and former members of the Central Information Commission (CIC). Several RTI advocators have commented on this latest move of the Government to curb the CIC’s autonomy. I had also critically examined its implications in light of media reports of this proposal. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) has refused to divulge details of this proposal under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) claiming that it is not final yet.

The RTI Intervention

Soon after after this proposal was reported widely in the media, I decided to seek the following information, from the DoPT, which is under the Prime Minister’s portfolio, through an Online RTI application:
“1) A clear photocopy of the communication sent to the Central Information Commission (CIC) regarding the proposal to set up committees to inquire into complaints received against Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners, whether serving or retired, along with annexures, if any;
2) A clear photocopy of all replies received from the CIC, till date, in relation to the communication described at para number 1 above; and
3) A clear photocopy of all file notings and correspondence available on record in paper or electronic form regarding the proposal described at para number 1 above.” (Click here for the RTI application)
After 28 days, the DoPT’s Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) has posted a reply online stating as follows:
“This proposal is at initial stage, comments of CIC have been sought on the proposal, which is yet to be received. Nothing concrete, which can be submitted in reply to the application under RTI Act, 2005. Further, as per section 19(1) of the RTI Act, 2005, if you are not satisfied with the reply of CPIO or not getting reply within time limit, you may file first appeal in concerned First Appellate Authority. Even if not satisfied with reply or not getting reply of first appeal from First Appellate Authority, you may file second appeal in the concerned State/Central Information Commission as per section 19(3) of the RTI Act, 2005. Copy of the RTI Act, 2005 is attached.” (Click here for the CPIO’s reply.)
I am yet to get a hard copy of this reply. Meanwhile, several other RTI users and activists might have sought similar information from the DoPT.

What is wrong with the CPIO’s reply?

The DoPT’s CPIO has neither rejected the RTI application nor supplied the requested information — these are the only two courses of action valid and available to him under the RTI Act. Knowing fully well that the proposal had not yet been finalised, I had asked only for a copy of the communication sent to the CIC about this proposal and related file notings. Under Section 4(1)(c) and (d) of the RTI Act, the DoPT has a statutory obligation to make all relevant facts about such an important proposal public as citizens are an affected party.
However, the Government has allowed some “information” to be leaked through the media instead of publicising a copy of the proposal and the details of the decision making process as to who mooted the idea first and who all were involved in the discussion around it. This is indeed a Quest for Transparency– a highlight of the website of the PMO.
Even more amusing is the CPIO’s general reply that I could move a State Information Commission in addition to the CIC, if I am not satisfied with the outcome of the first appeal process. State Information Commissions do not have jurisdiction over the DoPT. The supply of an e-copy of the RTI Act, free of cost is the icing on the cake. However, the reply reveals that the CIC which is said to have discussed the proposal, has not yet sent any response to the DoPT.
Of course I will do the usual appeals in this case. It is annoying to learn that the Government does not want to take into account the very stakeholders whose complaints will provide work for the two inquiry committees. This is also against the spirit of the pre-Legislative Consultation Policy adopted in February 2014 which requires all Departments, including the DoPT, to seek people’s views on such important proposals.
The CIC has also elected not to go public with this communication despite civil society and the citizenry standing by it every time the Government sought to amend the Act in a retrograde manner. Last year, civil society and the media had vigorously opposed the Government’s proposal to amend the RTI Act to downgrade the salaries of Information Commissioners and fix their tenure at will.

What is the current controversy all about?

The RTI Act provides for the financial and operational autonomy of the CIC to ensure that it is not unduly influenced by the Central Government and the 2400+ public authorities under its jurisdiction, that often oppose citizens’ demand for transparency about their actions and omissions. Section 12(4) of the RTI Act states that the CIC will function autonomously without being subject to the directions of any authority. Under Section 23, even courts are barred from entertaining any suit, application or proceeding against an order made under the RTI Act. The only recourse available is a judicial review of the CIC’s decision by invoking the writ jurisdiction of the High Courts and/or the Supreme Court under the Constitution.
Section 14(1) of the RTI Act provides for the removal of the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners in the CIC by the President of India on grounds of proved misbehaviour or incapacity only after the matter has been inquired into by the Supreme Court. Section 14(3) of the Act empowers the President of India to remove them unilaterally on grounds of insolvency or if they engage in other kinds of employment outside office or if they are physically or mentally unfit. They may also be removed unilaterally, if they are convicted of offences of moral turpitude such as murder, rape, kidnapping, extortion, robbery or trafficking minors for prostitution.
It is common knowledge, over the last 15 years several citizens have sent complaints about the manner of functioning of the CIC to various authorities in the Central Government including the President of India. Invariably, these complaints land up at the CIC itself for examination and action. The Central Government wants to assume the power to act on such complaints.
According to media reports, the Government wants to set up two committees- both headed by the Cabinet Secretariat to inquire into complaints against the CIC. The first will be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary himself with a retired Chief Information Commissioner as a member which will inquire into complaints against serving and retired Chief ICs. The second committee will be chaired by a Secretary grade officer of the Cabinet Secretariat and have a retired IC as a member to inquire into complaints against serving and retired ICs. The Secretary, DoPT, will be a common member of both committees.
These proposals, if implemented, will seriously compromise the autonomy of the CIC. Even more worrisome is the proposal to inquire into complaints against retired members of the CIC. What action can be taken against them, under the RTI Act is open to guesswork. I could not find any such provision in the RTI Act. These inquiry committees will not only have a chilling effect on the CIC but will also become a trailblazer for State Governments to curb the autonomy of State Information Commissions (SICs).
Principles of natural justice require that nobody should be a judge in his or her own cause. So letting the CIC examine complaints against itself is not the best option. Putting that power in the hands of the Government, which is in 9.9 out of 10 cases the Respondent party before the CIC, will extinguish the statutorily protected autonomy of the CIC.

What is the way forward?

Other options must be explored. Perhaps such a mechanism can be created within Parliament which placed the transparency law on the statute book. All complaints received against the CIC may be screened first by a committee comprising of MPs who are elected as Independents, to weed out frivolous or baseless allegations. Next, a committee comprising of one member of every party represented in either House may be empowered to examine complaints of a serious nature. This inquiry mechanism must be time-bound and also designed to prevent domination by any political party or group. All this can be done by inserting a new set of RTI Rules, without tinkering with the RTI Act.
However, there may be other views that people may hold about making the CIC and the SICs accountable. These can be ascertained only through a process of widespread consultation. Making the Government’s current proposal along with related file notings public, is an essential pre-condition for this consultative process. Does the Government have the will to walk the talk of “Transparency and Good Governance”?

*Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Abrogation of Art 370: Increasing alienation, relentless repression, simmering conflict

One year after the abrogation by the Central Government of Art. 370 in Kashmir, what is the situation in the Valley. Have the promises of peace, normalcy and development been realised? What is the current status in the Valley? Here is a detailed note by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties , “Jammu & Kashmir: One Year after Abrogation of Art. 370: Increasing Alienation, Relentless Repression, Simmering Conflict”:

Repeated failure to appoint Chief, other commissioners undermining RTI Act

By Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri* The post of the Chief Information Commissioner of the Central Information Commission (CIC) has fallen vacant with the retirement of Bimal Julka with effect from August 27, 2020. This is the fifth time in the last six years that the Commission has been rendered headless. Four posts of information commissioners are also vacant in the CIC. Currently more than 35,000 appeals and complaints are pending in the commission resulting in citizens having to wait for months, even years for their cases to be disposed, thereby frustrating peoples’ right to know. Since May 2014, not a single commissioner of the CIC has been appointed without citizens having to approach courts. The failure of the government to make timely appointments of commissioners is a flagrant violation of the directions of the Supreme Court. In its February 2019 judgment, the apex court had categorically stated that if the CIC does not have a Chief Information Commissioner or required strength

Sunil Gavaskar, G Viswanath rated Andy Roberts best fast bowler they ever faced

By Harsh Thakor  The West Indies pace quartet or battery of the 1970’s and 1980’s truck terror to deliver a knockout punch, like never in cricket history. One was reminded of bomber raiding an airbase or a combing operation. Andy Roberts was the pioneer in orchestrating or propelling the most fiery and lethal pace bowling attack ever in the history of the game. Simply the godfather of Modern West Indies fast bowlers. He spearheaded the pack from the mid 1970’s .Without Andy the talent of Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft would never have blossomed.Michael Holding credits Andy for shaping his great bowling career, by infusing vital elements.

Adivasi land rights question in Telugu states: Digitization process without transparency?

By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao  This paper examines whether the Land Records Modernization Program initiated by the successive governments in Telugu States is beneficial to tribals in the Scheduled Areas in the light of special protective Land laws that are in force there. Digitization process or regularization of land records or land surveys without transparency will result in disempowerment of Adivasis. This can be tested in the case of Adivasis in the Scheduled Areas of Telugu States. British colonialism, through its land revenue policy and elaborate exploitative bureaucratic structure, made land alienable on a large scale especially in tribal areas. 1 Land and the forest produce remain the main source of tribals’ livelihood; but availability of land is restricted by forest reservation on the one hand, and non-tribal encroachment on the other. 2 In the Andhra Area, there were certain laws including the Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act, 1917 that existed before the inaugurati

Ultimate champion in crisis, arguably best ever skipper: Created history in Aussie cricket

By Harsh Thakor  In the history of cricket few cricketers knit and propelled a cricket team or had such profound influence on the game as Ian Chappell. Ian Chappell was responsible for converting a bunch of talented individuals into a world beating side, giving a dramatic turn to Australian cricket. Few cricketers ever led such a renaissance.

Largest democracy in world has become weakest at hands of fascist Hindutva forces

Note on “The Nazification of India”, a report released By Justice For All: *** This report, the Nazification of India, compares how Hindutva ideology not only is inspired by Nazis and Fascists of Europe, but their treatment of the Muslim minority closely follows developments that resulted in pushing Jews to the gas chambers. Situation is indeed quite alarming. The report says that the largest democracy in the world has become the weakest at the hands of the fascist Hindutva ideology. India today is ruled not just by a political party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but its mother organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Because the BJP’s government policies are linked to extra-legal enforcement by RSS paramilitary street power, this report has coined the term “The BJP-RSS regime” to reflect their intrinsic links and collaborative relationship. The Nazification of India report marks the anniversary of the Gujarat pogroms of 2002 against Muslims which propelled the BJP-RSS

BSF's unconstitutional, whimsical order violates life, livelihood of Dalits, minorities

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I want to attract your attention towards the illegitimate restrictions on the life and livelihood of the villagers of Paschim Sahebganj village under Dinhata - II Block and Sahebganj police station in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal by the Border Security Force personnel attached with Dharala Border Out Post under 138 Battalion BSF. The population of Paschim Sahebganj village is around 1480, where almost 75 percent of the villagers belong from Hindu Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and 25 percent from minority Muslim backgrounds.The main occupation of the villagers is agriculture. About 260 acres of cultivable land in the village that belongs to the villagers is located outside the border fencing, which is heavily guarded by the Border Security Force (BSF). The BSF regulates the ingress and egress of the villagers to their fields through the fencing gates that a

Varanasi social worker who has devoted her life for the ultra-poor and the marginalized

Passion Vista and its partners profile Founder and Managing Trustee Shruti Nagvanshi as  someone whom women leaders look up to: *** Shruti Nagvanshi, a social worker and human rights activist based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, has devoted her life to reaching out to the ultra-poor and marginalized communities in India. Born in Dashashwmedh, Varanasi on 2 January 1974, she married Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi on 22 February 1992 and has a son, Kabeer Karunik, a Business management Graduate who is also a national level snooker player.

An approach to lake/pond restoration by Ramveer Tanvar, Pond Man of India

By Monami Bhattacharya*, Mansee Bal Bhargava**  Lakes/ ponds are often referred to as an elixir of life, a living ecosystem that adds incremental value to the larger biota. Across the tropical landscape of the country lakes/ ponds are a common sight. Lakes/ponds have always shaped the life and livelihood of those dwelling in and around it. The dependence of the local population on these natural resources of water is noticeable since time immemorial. However, they are fading fast in both rural and urbanscapes from the popular parlance with the advance of humanity. It has been a popular notion to value land more than the waterscape and hence these nurturers of life are under stress in several areas. In many instances, these once beautiful waterscapes referred as the ‘Eye of the Earth’ are mostly now only dilapidated garbage dump yards emitting foul smell with no sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Urban crisis: Impact of erosion of democratic framework on Indian cities

By IMPRI Team  On 13th February, 2023, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi in collaboration with ActionAid Association India arranged a book launch followed by lecture series under the title “India’s G20 Presidency & the Urban Agenda for the Developing Countries”. The event was held in Indian International Centre (IIC) Annex, New Delhi. The event began with the book inauguration session, under the honorary presence of Mr Sitaram Yechury, former Rajya Sabha member and General Secretary, CPI (M), accompanied by Mr Sandeep Chachra, executive director, ActionAid Association India. Session 1 | Book Launch: ‘Cities in Transition’ by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar The book launched was “Cities in Transition”, written by Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and a Senior Fellow at IMPRI. Beginning with brief remarks on his book, Mr Panwar outlined the basic subject matter and the purpose behind writing the book, which he considers as a by-product of his experien