Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meeting with the P&AR Secretary regarding transparent appointment of TN ICs

Sometime back I had sought an appointment with the Secretary of the Personnel and Adminsitrative Reforms Department, wanting to discuss the issue of appointment of Information Commissioners. I was hoping that the letter that was sent sometime back (can be seen here would elicit a response. But since that did not happen, I had sought an appointment with him. Yesterday somebody from the department had called up and told me that I was given an appointment at 11 today. Almost exactly, 24 hours notice. So the people I tried to get to accompany me were busy and could not make it, and moreover, the Secretary had said that only 2 people can accompany me. So I couldnt find people to go with me, though I took a friend, Bhaskar, along with me. Here is what happened.

During the meeting, I had referred to the Indonesian model of appointments of Information Commissioners and also the appointments of Judges in UK. He kept repeating "If you have a suggestion, then I will consider it". But I tried to make the point of how the existing procedure is not transparent. He refused to agree saying that the committee is making the appointments as per the RTI act. I told him that since the P&AR department sends the list of candidates, this list needs to be prepared on a transparent basis. He said that there were no such lists sent by the P&AR department. Immediately, I showed him the list that was sent the last time to the appointments committee and told him that these people had applied for the post and hence their names were listed. To this, he said that he did not know this, but said that there is no compulsion that the committee should choose only those within the list sent by the P&AR and that they can choose their own people. To this I replied that we cannot expect the CM, the Leader of the opposition and the Minister to act like a Search Committee and that they can only choose from the list given by P&AR. Then he again asked me if I have a specific suggestion. I gave him a letter with contained references to the way Indonesiation Information Commissioners and South African Judges were appointed.

The meeting lasted just 10 minutes. I brought up the issue of the letter sent in February and asked him if anything happened on that. He said that holding a public consultation is not possible, but asked me if I had a specific suggestion. I told him that I wanted the procedure to be a result of a public feedback process. But he said he cannot do it. At the end, I told him that I will come up with an appointment process after talking to people and he confirmed that saying "you hold a public consultation and come up with a draft and that can be considered".

So what I am considering is this. I will hold a half day public consultation of NGOs, activists and any interested citizens, the result of which should be a suggested procedure for appointment of Information Commissioners. And then this can be presented to the P&AR department and push them to implement it. I am thinking of the end of this month to hold such a consultation.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thiruvallur collector's report on Justice P D Dinakaran

As is public knowledge Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P D Dinakaran has been accused of various forms of corruption like encroaching on government lands, giving biased orders and other such charges. The actual complaints filed by Chennai based lawyers can be downloaded from here and here.

These complaints were filed when when Dinakaran's name came up on the list of judges who were to be elevated to the Supreme Court. After this complaint, the Supreme Court asked the Tamil Nadu government to verify the facts of the allegations of encroachment. The Tamil Nadu government in turn asked the Thiruvallur district collector, to verify the facts, since the alleged encroachments had taken place in that district. The collector submitted a report which confirmed the allegations. But the fact that the allegations have been confirmed is only hearsay and unofficial. There have been numberous media reports saying that the allegations have been confirmed by the report.

The collector who submitted the report was Mr.V.Palanikumar, but on March 28th 2010 another officer Mr.T.P.Rajesh has been appointed as the collector of the district. Following the report, P.D.Dinakaran's name was taken out of the list of judges who were to be elevated to the Supreme Court. I had filed an RTI with the Thiruvallur Collectorate seeking a copy of the report filed by him with the Supreme Court. They replied that it was confidential and hence cannot be given out. A first appeal too elicited the same reply. Hence I filed a second appeal with the State Information Commission.

This was heard on 13th April 2010. The Information Commissioner was Mr.T.R.Ramasamy). In my RTI application I had written that the Supreme Court had asked the TN Govt to look into the allegations which in turn asked the Thiruvallur to do it. Instead of focusing on the exemptions under 8(1)(h) and 8(1)(c) he started nitpicking saying that the Supreme Court had not asked the Government but instead asked the collector directly. I dont know how true this is, since I had based my RTI on the newsitem in the Hindu But irrespective of which is right, it was such a useless point to pick on. The disclosure of the report is the only thing of consequence.

But I told him that I will get him a copy of the newsitem (the above given link). Eventually he said that the report will come under section 8(1)(c), breach of privilege. To which I replied saying that he just cant cite "8(1)(c)" and that he must establish what privilege of parliament is breached. To which he replied "Is that the only argument you offer??" I said yes. While I was leaving he also showed me a newsitem,, wherein the PIO of the Supreme Court refused to give information regarding consultations done before suggesting Dinakaran's name. He wanted to use the 8(1)(b) clause wherein it says that Information barred by the Courts cannot be disclosed. To this I replied that the information refused in the newsitem he cited is COMPLETELY different from what I had asked, but that didnt seem to cut any ice with him. Moreover PIO refusing some information does not amount to the information being "barred by the courts", though I didnt mention it there.

Eventually he reserved the case and said that the judgment will come. I was 99.99% sure that he will not order for disclosure. But then I received an order from the SIC stating that since the PIO did not have enough information on hand, the hearing has been adjourned to 2nd June 2010. And for this hearing, the district collector was asked to appear in person. So yesterday, I was back at the Commission armed with a lot of arguments based on high court judgments, CIC orders news reports etc. But, to my complete disappointment, the collector did not turn up. His two officers told the commissioner that the collector could not come because of work related to the World Tamil Conference that will be held in June in Coimbatore. So the hearing is adjourned again, but the date is not known yet. Let us see what happens.

All related files can be downloaded from here.

The Chief Secretary does not even want to tell WHETHER he has submitted his assets statements or not

Even before I had filed an RTI seeking copies of the assets statements of the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, I had filed a RTI seeking information on WHETHER IAS and IPS officers have been submitting their statements and if not, the list of officers who have not submitted their statements. I filed this RTI on 2-Dec-2008.

For this I received a reply stating that the property returns of the IAS officers of the government, are personal in nature and disclosure of this information will cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.

In response to this I filed a First Appeal on 5th January 2008, putting forward arguments why these are public records and also adding that in my RTI application I have not asked for copies of returns filed, but only whether they have filed their returns and the number of people who did so and action taken on those who have not complied with this requirement. Hence the argument of these documents being personal in nature is not relevant to my RTI application.

After this there was no response, hence I filed an appeal with the State Information Commission, which ordered the public department to disclose the information sought for within 2 weeks of the order. Since there was no information even after the SIC's order, I filed a followup in Dec 2010, and when I went a few days back to check with the Registrar on the status of my follow-up letter, I was surprised to learn that the Public department had gone to court appealing against the SIC's order.

This was completely unexpected. Though I can understand their claiming that assets statements are personal documents (though I dont agree with them) their saying that even the information on whether they have filed their returns or not is personal is simply weird. I need to go to the courts now and find out the status of this case. I had not received any notice on this and so I was completely ignorant of it till I checked with the Information Commission.

Though it is plain to everybody that Government Servants will try to hide as much information as possible, the extent to which they do that in this case is a shocker.