Kept in the dark; democratic norms thrown to wind, says Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on selection of Chief Information Commissioner

In a letter to President Droupadi Murmu, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the voice of the Opposition has been "ignored" and that is not good for democracy.

Updated - November 07, 2023 12:07 pm IST

Published - November 07, 2023 11:59 am IST - New Delhi

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. File

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Congress MP and member of the selection committee for appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has written to President Droupadi Murmu saying he was "kept in the dark" in the selection process and that all democratic norms, customs and procedures were "thrown to the wind".

In the letter, Mr. Chowdhury said the voice of the Opposition has been "ignored" and that is not good for democracy.

Former IAS officer Heeralal Samariya was on November 6 sworn in as the Chief Information Commissioner by President Murmu.

Mr. Chowdhury alleged that his plea for change of timing of the meeting of the selection committee, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was not changed from evening to morning of November 3 and that he was not even informed about the decisions taken.

"Given the facts pertaining to the entire selection process as brought out above, I would urge upon you to take every possible measure for ensuring that our democratic traditions and ethos do not continue to get diluted by not giving the Opposition its rightful and legitimate place to be heard," Mr. Chowdhury said in the letter to the President.

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament said despite being a member of the selection committee, he was "totally kept in the dark" about the selection of the CIC/ICS, at the meeting that was held at the residence of the Prime Minister at 6 p.m. on November 3. 

"The fact that within hours of the meeting in which only the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were present and the 'face of the Opposition', that is, me, as a bona-fide member of the selection committee was not present, the names of the selected candidates were announced, notified and also sworn into Office, only indicates that the entire selection exercise was pre-determined," he alleged.

"The process, as it unfolded within a short span, is not conducive for your democratic ethos and norms," Mr. Chowdhury claimed.

"It is with extreme sadness and a heavy heart that I bring to your notice that all democratic norms, customs and procedures were thrown to the wind in the matter of selection of the Central Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners," he said in his letter.

He said the Right to Information Act, 2005, in consonance with democratic norms and traditions envisages that the voice of the Opposition too is heard in the process of selection of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners.

"I, as a member representing the largest Opposition Party in the selection committee to these all-important posts under the landmark RTI Act, was extremely keen and enthusiastic to partake in the selection process by attending the meeting, had it been convened at a time that would have been suitable to all members," he said.

“Unfortunately, while the scheduled time of the selection meeting at 6 p.m. on November 3 suited the Prime Minister and the Home Minister despite their hectic electioneering schedules, his plea for re-scheduling the meeting, to be held in the morning on the same day was “totally disregarded” and all his “sincere efforts” to attend the meeting failed,” he stated.

"More blatant is the fact that I was not even informed of the outcome of the meeting. And even more glaringly, apart from being deprived of the opportunity to be a part of the meeting called in connection with the selection process, I received an invitation this morning for attending the swearing-in ceremony of the newly selected candidates for the posts of CIC/ICS," the Congress leader said. The post was lying vacant following the completion of Y. K. Sinha's tenure on October 3.

Samariya, the first Dalit to have been appointed to the post, was working as information commissioner in the transparency panel Central Information Commission (CIC).

The swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was attended by Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Prime Minister Modi and Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh among others. The Supreme Court had on October 30 asked the Centre and the State governments to take steps to fill the post, saying otherwise the 2005 law on the Right to Information would become a "dead letter". 

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