The Centre will appoint former Indian Foreign Service officer and Information Commissioner Yashvardhan Sinha the new Chief Information Commissioner, despite objections from Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Opposition member in the high-powered selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, The Indian Express reported on Friday.
The appointment comes two months after the position at the top transparency watchdog fell vacant. The government also appointed journalist Uday Mahurkar as an Information Commissioner. “Yes, I have accepted the offer letter that I got,” the journalist told the newspaper.
The decision was taken after an October 24 meeting of the selection panel, where Chowdhury had reportedly submitted a dissent note. The Opposition leader had 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 February 2019, according to The Hindu.
Chowdhury also objected to the fact that Mahurkar had been shortlisted for a commissioner position although he had not been on the list of applicants. He said the journalist’s name had been “skydropped” out of nowhere.
As many as 139 people had applied for the post of CIC and 355 for the posts of information commissioners.
Unidentified officials told The Indian Express that Chowdhury referred to Mahurkar’s articles, comments and his social media profile, saying he was “an open supporter of the ruling political party and its ideology”.
Mahurkar, a senior deputy editor with India Today, is the author of books on the Modi government.
The senior Congress leader said the appointments to the committee were “nothing but an empty formality aimed at carrying out a hog-wash that defeats the very aim and goal of transparency and accountability that the Right to Information Act envisages”.
He reportedly argued that the CIC should have more “on-ground” domestic experience in the field of service delivery, law, science, human rights and issues that concerns the general public. “And an IFS officer [Sinha] didn’t have that experience,” he said.
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 10 commissioners. At present, there are only five information commissioners at the Chief Information Commission including Sinha, as opposed to the full strength of 10.
The selection committee had reportedly met twice before finalising the appointments. At the first meeting on October 7, Chowdhury had pointed out that the Search Committee had failed to provide its recommendations in advance. The meeting was then deferred.
The selection committee then met on October 24 and considered two names for the post of CIC shortlisted: retired IAS officer and Information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta and Sinha.