To the Selection Committee to appoint information commissioners of the CIC:
1. Shri Narendra Modi, Chairperson, Selection Committee
2. Shri Arun Jaitley, Member, Selection Committee
3. Shri Mallikarjun Kharge, Member, Selection Committee
Dear Shri Modi, Shri Jaitley, Shri Kharge,
According to media reports, the committee to select information commissioners is set to meet today (i.e. February 19, 2016) to finalise the names to fill up the 3 vacant spots in the Central Information Commission. The current Police Commissioner of Delhi, Mr. B. S. Bassi’s candidature is apparently in consideration as one of the potential information commissioners.
On Monday (15-2-2016), the police remained a mute spectator when students, faculty and journalists were attacked within and outside the Patiala House premises. Despite clear evidence of the identity of those who assaulted people, the police chose to file an FIR against unknown persons. The failure of the police in protecting media persons led journalists to file a petition to the Supreme Court seeking its intervention in protecting the freedom of speech.
On February 17, 2016, the Supreme Court gave specific directions to the Delhi Police to ensure peace in the court premises and prevent a repeat of the violent scenes witnessed earlier. In flagrant violation of the Apex Court’s orders, the police once again failed to prevent violence and not only were media persons and students again subjected to violent behaviour and stone pelting, even the person being produced before the court-Kanhaiya Kumar- was attacked. The incompetence of the police under the leadership of Mr. Bassi is highlighted by the fact that the Supreme Court had to take matters in its own hands and rush a panel of senior advocates to assess the law and order situation. Even this team appointed by the Supreme Court was manhandled. Mr. Rajeev Dhawan, one of the senior advocates of the team is on record stating that he believes the police was acting in collusion with the perpetrators and that the Police Commissioner completely failed in his duty.
The assault on the media’s right to free speech and expression is a result of police inaction. In the wake of repeated violence, the Supreme Court has demanded an explanation from the Delhi Police Commissioner Mr. B.S. Bassi and has warned that it would intervene if he fails to ensure law and order.
An officer under whose charge the police repeatedly failed to prevent attacks on the right to free speech and expression of citizens and journalists, certainly does not deserve a place in the Central Information Commission of India. The information commissions have been set up to safeguard and facilitate people’s right to information, which the Supreme Court has held flows from the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
In the current circumstances when serious questions are being raised about Mr. Bassi’s conduct as Police Commissioner, we believe it would be wholly inappropriate to appoint him as an information commissioner.
We have, in the past, also written about the urgent need to address the issue of preponderance of retired government servants being appointed as information commissioners. The apprehension that civil servants are likely to have much greater sympathy and affiliation with their erstwhile colleagues than with the general public while adjudicating on matters of information provision, is borne out by a national assessment which found that penalties for violating the RTI Act are being imposed in less than 4% of the cases in which they were imposable. Unfortunately, Information Commissions rather than being institutions housing men and women most suitable for the job, have been reduced to becoming post-retirement slots for civil servants. We therefore urge the committee to look beyond government officials and ensure competent people from diverse backgrounds are appointed as commissioners. In the event the selection committee chooses former government servants as information commissioners, it must ensure they have an unblemished record and have displayed a commitment to issues of transparency and freedom of speech and expression.
We urge you to consider the issues raised in this letter.
Best wishes & regards,
Anjali Bhardwaj, Shekhar Singh, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey & Amrita Johri