High Court upholds appointment of K.S. Sripathi as CIC

The Madras High Court on Friday upheld the appointment of K.S.Sripathi as the State Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), but quashed the appointments of three Information Commissioners.

In its order, the First Bench comprising Chief Justice M.Y.Eqbal and Justice T.S.Sivagnanam said the process of appointment of Mr.Sripathi adopted by the selection committee was transparent and was in accordance with the Section 15 (3) of the Right to Information Act. The Bench said unless it was found that the act by the earlier government was either contrary to the constitutional provisions or unreasonable or against public interest, the State should not change its stand merely because another political party had come to power. “Political agenda of an individual or a political party should not be subversive of the rule of law.”

The petitioners, V.Madhav and Siva Elango, said the appointment of Mr.Sripathi was at variance with the spirit of RTI Act and it violated the constitutional mandates and principles of natural justice.

In the counter, the Tamil Nadu government stated that the selection of the CIC was made strictly following the Act and the selection was totally transparent. Mr.Sripathi's name was recommended by the committee. However, in the second counter filed by the present government, a different stand was taken: the CIC's appointment had not been made as per the procedure laid down in the law.

The Bench said from the notings it was clear that the then Leader of the Opposition (Jayalalithaa) was duly informed about the committee meeting held on August 23 last year. It was duly acknowledged on her behalf. In spite of that, she had chosen not to attend the meeting, without assigning any reason. Hence, it could not be held that the decision taken by the committee was arbitrary or suffered from bias.

As regards the petition filed by one S.Vijayalakshmi challenging the appointments of P.A.Ramaiah, C.Manoharan and A.Arumuga Nainar as Information Commissioners, the Bench said it had no hesitation in holding that the manner in which the date for convening the selection committee meeting was fixed and the decision recommending the appointments of the three were made was wholly arbitrary, capricious and against the methodology to be followed in such appointments.

The Opposition Leader had categorically stated that the Assembly election notification was likely to be published in the first week of March this year. Some guidelines were also expected from the Supreme Court in the controversial appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner. She had said it would be proper to convene the selection committee meeting after the elections. However, the Chief Minister convened the meeting on March 1.

In her absence, a decision was taken to appoint the three. Despite the fact that the election was notified on March 1, the Governor's consent for the appointments was obtained and the order of appointment was issued the same day.