The Narendra Modi government acted in an "arbitrary manner" in the appointments of the Chief Information Commissioner as well as the Information Commissioners, the Supreme Court has been told.
“The search committee had in violation of its mandate, short-listed persons who had not even applied for the post in response to advertisements,” a bench of Justices AK Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer heard on Tuesday.
Out of the five short-listed candidates for the post of Chief Information Commissioner, four had never even applied while out of the 14 short-listed candidates for the post of Information Commissioners, two had never applied and finally one these has even been selected as an information commissioner, the petitioners argued.
The petition has been filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Lokesh Batra and Amrita Johri. It notes that the “Government of India and state governments have attempted to stifle the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring appointment of commissioners in the Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions, in a timely manner.”
"In its affidavit dated 27.8.2018, in point 10(c), the government had stated that the search committee devises modalities for shortlisting of the candidates out of the applications received," pointed the petitioners, being represented by senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, Pranav Sachdeva and Rahul Gupta.
In an affidavit filed on Jan 25, the petitioners had also claimed that the government had "deliberately delayed complying with the order of the Supreme Court dated December 13, 2018, which had directed that the details of the search committee, names of short-listed candidates and the selection criteria be uploaded on the website."
"The government complied with this only around January 17, 2019 well after the appointments had been completed, thereby preventing any public scrutiny during the process of appointment," the top court has been told.
At that time the appointment of four commissioners and the chief information commissioner of the Central Information Commission was underway. The government complied with this only around January 17, 2019 well after the appointments had been completed, thereby preventing any public scrutiny during the process of appointment, the petitioners argued.
The Supreme Court also asked the Centre as to why only retired or sitting bureaucrats were being shortlisted by the search committee for appointment as information commissioners.
"Their (petitioners) objection is that only civil servants are there. Ultimately, you do not find even a single person other than bureaucrats," the bench told the ASG. The bench also observed that the search committee comprises civil servants only.
(with inputs from PTI)