CIC refuses to disclose minutes of selection committee meetings to appoint Lokpal

New Delhi, Feb 9 (PTI) The CIC has refused to allow disclosure of minutes of selection committee meetings to choose the chairperson and members of anti-graft body Lokpal.

Retired Supreme Court judge Pinaki Chandra Ghose’s name was finalised and recommended in a Selection Committee meeting comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, and eminent jurist Mukul Rohatgi on March 17, 2019.

Over two years since an application seeking records pertaining to the selection of the country’s Lokpal and other members was filed, the Central Information Commission (CIC) rejected it citing two Supreme Court judgments on contempt petitions over the non-appointment of Lokpal even after the apex court’s directives and transparency in the appointment of information commissioners.

“The commission is of the considered view that in the instant matter, the CPIO upheld the interest of transparency by informing the appellant regarding all the details of the selection committee and its meetings, hence the question of lack of transparency does not hold ground. Moreover, having taken cognizance of the averred dictum of the apex court, the commission does not find it appropriate to intervene in the decision of the CPIO,” Information Commissioner Sarioj Punhani said.

Transparency and anti-corruption activist Anjali Bhardwaj had filed the RTI application in November 2018 with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), demanding records related to the selection process of the chairperson and members of the Lokpal.

The request included information about the number of meetings held, the dates of the meetings, copies of minutes or proceedings of the meetings and details of the attendees.

The ministry refused the minutes of the selection committee meetings, saying, “As regards the minutes of the meetings, it is submitted that the authorship of such documents, which include three to five high-level dignitaries, does not vest in the Department of Personnel and Training and the same have been shared as secret documents. Thus, copies of the said documents cannot be provided by the undersigned CPIO.”

“The other information regarding the dates of the meetings, the details of who attended the meetings was furnished and the PIO provided a summary of the decisions taken at the meetings,” Bhardwaj said.

She challenged the order before the CIC, the apex adjudicating body in RTI matters, in March 2019, which was finally heard in February this year.

During the hearing, Bhardwaj argued that the Right to Information (RTI) Act allows denial of information only on the grounds mentioned in sections 8 and 9.

“In this matter, the PIO did not invoke any of the provisions mentioned in these sections. There is no provision in the RTI Act for denying information merely because the authorship does not vest in the public authority or because some document is shared as secret. Further, it was highlighted in the appeal to the CIC that transparency in appointment to oversight bodies is a crucial safeguard against arbitrariness in appointments and to ensure their independent functioning,” she said in a statement.

Bhardwaj said the Supreme Court, in a number of orders, has given directions to ensure transparency in the process of short-listing and selection of functionaries.

She said one of the apex court cases relied upon by the CIC in denying information related to a contempt petition filed before the court when despite its 2017 ruling, the Centre failed to appoint the chairperson and members of the Lokpal.

“In the case, the petitioners had drawn attention to section 4(4) of the Lokpal Act, which states that the selection committee shall regulate its own procedure in a transparent manner for selecting the chairperson and members of the Lokpal,” Bhardwaj said.

When the counsel for the petitioners had pressed that the names recommended by the search committee be placed in the public domain, the Supreme Court had observed: “It is our considered view that no direction from the court should be issued in this regard. Rather the matter should be left for a just determination by the selection committee as and when the meeting of the committee is convened,” she pointed out.

The reliance by the CIC on this observation of the apex court appears to be misplaced as the issue of whether minutes of selection committee meetings are accessible under the RTI Act was neither brought up before the court and nor did the court discuss or rule on the issue, Bhardwaj said.

She said the other judgment cited by the CIC relates to transparency in the appointment of information commissioners.

“As a result of the directions of the Supreme Court in this case, records regarding appointment, including minutes of meetings of the search and selection committees, are placed in the public domain and are accessible under the RTI Act. Therefore, it is not clear how the CIC has relied on this judgment to rule that minutes of selection committee meetings for appointing Lokpal should not be accessible under the RTI Act,” Bhardwaj added.

Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by The Sen Times staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI