Thursday, November 05, 2009

Chief CIC appointment - PIL in Delhi High Court

The Chief Central Information Commissioner Mr.Wajahat Habibullah, had resigned sometime back so that he can take up the post of the State Information Commissioner for Jammu and Kashmir, which has now got its own Right to Information act, which is heavily based on the National RTI act. (Though not relevant to this post, I would like to point out here, that one important feature of the J&K RTI act is that only people in that state can use the J&K can use the act). Now the Central Government is on the lookout for a new Chief Information Commissioner. Meanwhile Arvind Kejriwal has launched a high profile campaign asking for Kiran Bedi to be installed as Chief Information Commissioner.

In this context, Mr.Krishnaraj Rao, an activist from Maharashtra, started a telegram/phonogram campaign to the PM and others to choose the CIC in a transparent manner. After that he also took initiative to file a Public Interest Litigation with the Delhi High Court asking it to direct the Government to put in place a transparent mechanism, where criteria are declared clearly and openly, applications are called for and then the choice is made. He asked me if I would also be one of the petitioners. The idea is that if people from different states are petitioners, then it will add weight to the PIL. Since I was trying to get something done on the arbitrary appointments in TN SIC, I gladly agreed. There is one person from Andhra Pradesh too, Mr.C.J.Karira, who is a petitioner. Krishnaraj himself is from Mumbai. There are 3 other petitioners from Mumbai. The PIL is being argued by a lawyer Mr.Rasheed Qureshi from New Delhi who is a friend of Mr.Krishnaraj. The petition can be seen here.

The whole case was initiated by Mr.Krishnaraj. This already came up for hearing once on 9th November 2009. Mr.Prashant Bhushan was to argue for this. But since he was also looking at other cases, on that day, when the turn of this case came, he was not there. Hence Mr.Rasheed himself argued the case. The next hearing for the case is shceduled for Nov 18th, Wednesday. Let us see what happens. Meanwhile I did three awareness sessions for volunteers of the NGO Hand in Hand on three consecutive days. They forced me to accept Rs.500 as resource person fee for each of the three days. So it came to Rs.1500. The very next day I received an email from Mr.Krishnaraj that the cost for the PIL that we need to pay comes to Rs.10,000 which comes to Rs.1,430 per petitioner. So my part of the funding for the PIL to strengthen RTI comes from RTI itself :-)

Will keep updating on what happened on this case. But here is the report from Mr.Qureshi on hat happened on 9th November.

In the first call (10.45 AM), I mentioned that I was seeking a passover as Mr Prashant Bhushan was to appear in my matter. The Chief justice remarked that our matter was premature as the new CCIC had not yet been appointed. I said that our matter was not about canvassing for any particular person X,Y or Z to be made the CCIC. If that was the case it would surely be premature, because then we must wait to see who is made the CCIC, and then move the court. In the present case, we were saying that the 3-member selection group was acting without any guidelines, criteria, rules etc and hence was violative of the Constitution. Acting in a void, without administrative guidelines, meant that they could pick and choose any one of their choice to the detriment of the public at large.

I stressed that all that I was asking was that there must be administrative guidelines, some criteria and the process must be generally known through Rules under the RTI Act. In the absence of this, there was likelihood of persons being selected who had conflict of interest qua their duties under the Post held and the appointing class of persons i.e. politicians.

At this, the CJ asked, "Do you say that bureaucrats must not be appointed?" I said, No, I don’t say that either. All I say is that the Act contemplates that People of eminence in law, social activism etc. PLUS those in administration and governance. So people from other categories also must be considered for the post of CCIC. Also, this must be done keeping in mind that bureaucrats are likely to have a conflict of interest in discharge of duty. CIC’s work is a quasi judicial work which requires decision-making, and sometime hard decision need to be taken.

This Act is in a nascent stage in India while other countries like Australia, UK & Canada have already evolved Best Practices in this field which we need to incorporate. Advertising this post is one good way, though not the only way, to make it transparent.

The Court asked if I was challenging the RTI Act. I said, No.

The matter is adjourned to 18th November. That gives us 9 days to prepare with more case laws.

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