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Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha to be next Chief Information Commissioner

Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha.  

Former diplomat and Central Information Commissioner Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha is tipped to be appointed as the country’s next Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), two months after the position at the top transparency watchdog fell vacant, sources said on Thursday.

The decision was taken after an October 24 meeting of the high-powered selection panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, Congress Leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is also a member of the panel, is learnt to have submitted a dissent note.

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The Opposition leader objected to the manner in which the shortlisting process was carried out, alleging a failure to follow the Supreme Court’s transparency guidelines, issued in a February 2019 case brought by RTI (Right to Information) activist Anjali Bhardwaj. Mr. Chowdhury also objected to the fact that journalist Uday Mahurkar had been shortlisted for a Commissioner position although he had not been on the list of applicants.

Mr. Sinha is a retired officer of the Indian Foreign Service and has previously served as India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and to Sri Lanka. He was appointed as a member of the Central Information Commission in January 2019.

The Commission is the highest appellate authority under the Right to Information Act, and consists of a Chief and up to ten Commissioners. It has been headless twice this year, due to a two month delay in appointing the last chief Bimal Julka, and another two month period since he retired at the end of August. It has not functioned at full strength for almost four years, and currently has only five Commissioners, leading to a backlog of almost 37,000 pending cases.

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When the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) issued advertisements for the vacancies in July, it received 139 applications for the CIC position and 355 applications for the Information Commissioner vacancies. The procedure is for a search committee to then shortlist the applicants for the selection panel’s consideration.

The three-member selection committee including the PM, Mr. Chowdhury and Home Minister Amit Shah met twice, on October 7 and 24. DoPT Minister of State Jitendra Singh was also present, according to sources. They considered Mr. Sinha and his fellow Commissioner and former Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Neeraj Kumar Gupta, for the CIC position.

They also considered seven shortlisted candidates for the remaining Commission vacancies, including senior journalist Uday Mahurkar, who authored a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance model in 2017. According to sources, he was not on the list of 355 applicants, and was apparently included in the shortlist to satisfy the Supreme Court’s directive to consider a broad field of expertise and look beyond the stable of Civil Services veterans.

According to sources, the other shortlisted candidates are all from a bureaucratic background, including former Defence Production Secretary Subhash Chandra, former Labour Secretary Heeralal Samariya, former MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) Secretary Arun Kumar Panda, retired All India Radio News Director General Ira Joshi, Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General (DCAG) Meenakshi Gupta and former DCAG Saroj Punhani. It is not known how many vacancies are being filled at this time.

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In a February 2019 order, the apex court ruled that such long delays in clearing appeals frustrated citizens’ rights and directed that appointments be made in a “transparent and timely” manner. The government was directed to put up “all necessary information” on their website, including particulars of the applicants and the composition of the search committee which shortlists candidates. “It would also be appropriate for the Search Committee to make the criteria for shortlisting the candidates, public, so that it is ensured that shortlisting is done on the basis of objective and rational criteria,” it added.

However, the DoPT has refused to make this information public. In a September response to an RTI request from Ms. Bhardwaj, it argued that information relating to particulars of applicants is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005, which aims to protect individual privacy unless the larger public interest is involved.

The DoPT also refused to release information on the search committee’s composition, meetings or criteria. “As the process of selection is yet to be completed, it would not be conducive to furnish such information in the manner it is sought. No such practice is followed in any other equivalent high level appointments of Government,” it said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 8:32:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/yashvardhan-kumar-sinha-to-be-next-chief-information-commissioner/article32975039.ece

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