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A setback for CM

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The selection committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, comprising leader of the Opposition and a Cabinet Minister, did not follow the...

By setting aside on Thursday the appointment of four Information Commissioners, the Andhra Pradesh High Court has given a strong backing for the RTI and the spirit behind the legislation. In a historic judgment, Chief Justice Kalyan Jyothi Sen Gupta and Justice KC Bhanu have directed the State government to appoint new Commissioners in place of those who have been disqualified. People of the State have to thank the judiciary besides the three petitioners who prevented dilution of the democratic institution. For Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, it is a setback. The arrogance of power he exhibited was bad in taste and in law. He deserved the rebuke.

The selection committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, comprising leader of the Opposition and a Cabinet Minister, did not follow the set regulations. A proper advertisement has to be released to newspapers and all applications have to be examined and the selection has to be based on relative merit.

Opposition leader Chandrababu Naidu had attended the first meeting at which he did not raise any objection, but after coming out of the meeting he complained that the procedure was not followed. He also suggested appointment of a screening committee. Governor ESL Narasimhan had returned the file to the government on the ground that some of the candidates were politicians. After a few months, the State government sent the file back to the Governor recommending the same names. The second meeting of the selection committee was not attended by the Opposition leader.

It was a very clear case of a Chief Minister unilaterally appointing persons, for extraneous considerations, to a very important democratic institution which was created by Right to Information Act, 2005. It was a remarkable legislation personally engineered by Sonia Gandhi and the Chief Ministers appointed by her show scant respect for it. This has been particularly true of the appointments made by AP government.

YS Rajasekhara Reddy did not select the best of the available talent and experience. Kiran Kumar Reddy’s selection was even worse. One of the appointees was a candidate who had contested against the Chief Minister in the 2009 elections. The three others were also of the same caliber and from the same background. The Act clearly stipulates that persons of eminence in public life with wide knowledge and experience in various faculties shall be appointed as Information Commissioners. It should not be treated as an institution meant for rehabilitating politicians.

Politicians holding high office in the State have not been showing due respect for law and procedure. Ethical aspect is never considered. Be it appointment of Vice-Chancellors or members of APPSC, the governments had thrown norms to the wind as a result of which the youth have lost faith in the institutions. Vice-Chancellors ceased to command respect from students and parents and the APPSC has become notorious for a rigged selection process.
The same attitude was adopted in the case of the appointment of Director General of Police. Politicians once in office appear to think that they are above the law. The procedure of selection is not transparent. The government is not accountable. The sole purpose of the Act, ironically, was to promote transparency and accountability in public authority. The judgment of the apex court in Namith Sharma vs.
Union of India made it clear that any appointment without following the proper procedure of giving advertisement and scrutinizing all the applications would be ultra vires. By nominating four politicians, the government had violated section 15 (6) of the RTI Act. The HC has rightly concluded that the appointments are arbitrary, illegal and contrary to the provisions of the Act. The trust in the democratic institutions would be restored to that limited extent. The State government would do well to desist from going for an appeal and implementing the order of the HC in letter and spirit by appointing persons who are truly respected by the people and who really deserve to be there.
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