Governor Narasimhan sets an example

IN Media Practice | 28/02/2012
The selection of candidates for the posts of Information Commissioner is a classic case of political collusion that has been exposed by a vigilant civil society and responsible media in Andhra Pradesh.
MADABHUSHI SRIDHAR says that leaders should understand that the post is not something that can be doled out to political workers. Pix: Governor Narasimhan

Andhra Pradesh Governor E S L   Narasimhan has allowed the provisions of RTI to survive and prevented the RTI activists from filing a PIL against the allegedly illegal nominations made by the Kirankumar Reddy government, by rejecting the wrong candidates for the posts of Information Commissioners, while accepting four of the recommended ones. This comes as resounding victory for the civil society and the vibrant media against the unscrupulous collusion between the government and the Opposition.

Invoking Section 15(6) of the RTI Act, the Governor found four nominees ineligible for holding the post of Information Commissioner as they have political affiliations. This section says that, among other things, the nominees should not be connected with any political party. However, a scrutiny of the profiles of the recommended candidates shows that four of them have close political affiliations with one party or the other. Imtiaz Ahmed is a former Telugu Desam candidate for the Assembly elections in 2009; Tantiya Kumari, a Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency (ZPTC) member; Vijaya Nirmala, formerly a Praja Rajyam candidate from the Nuzvid Assembly constituency in Krishna district; and V. Venkateswarlu, a Congress leader from Nalgonda.

Eight names were forwarded to Mr. Narasimhan in January after a three-member committee comprising the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister C. Damodar Rajanarasimha, and Leader of the Opposition N. Chandrababu Naidu had approved them unanimously. Civil society was up in arms against the approved list, and a delegation of citizens led by former Union Home Secretary K. Padmabhaiah represented to the Governor urging him to reject the appointment of the four candidates.

The government went on supporting its recommendation saying that the candidates concerned would resign from their political parties before assuming the office of Information Commissioner. The Government failed to understand that political association could not be snapped when that was considered as the basis for their selection. Holding “office of profit” under the government is also a disqualification for this post, but by relinquishing it before taking over as Information Commissioner the lacuna can be set right.

Nowhere in the country those who have links with the ruling party have been appointed to this position. In general, former bureaucrats have been preferred. When the YSR government appointed a few of his political followers to the post, there was some opposition but not strong resistance. The present Chief Minister relied on this “precedent” to justify his stand.

The situation is different now. The media and the people saw a “collusion” between the ruling and the Opposition parties when the nominations for the eight posts of Information Commissioners had a smooth sailing as Leader of the Opposition Chandrababu Naidu made no ruckus against any appointment, apparently because his candidates too had been accommodated. However, Mr. Naidu is now demanding the constitution of a search committee to identify right candidates to enforce right to information. But his earlier silent concurrence with the choice of the selection committee has put him in a spot. It is a pity that the Opposition has been an active supporter of these questionable nominations instead of being a constructive and active critic of an apparent illegality.

The Chief Minister might have thought that he was politically clever as he could win over the Opposition Leader, but he was proved wrong within hours as the civil society exposed the hollowness, besides illegality of the nominations. Telangana Rasthra Samithi and YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy found a new “proof’” for their persistent allegation that the Congress and the TDP were hand in glove to weaken the demand for Telangana and to fight Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy. Their media, Sakshi TV, Saakshi daily, T channel, and Namasthe Telangana repeatedly exposed this “collusion”.

One question asked was what if the government re-sends the file with the same names? Generally, the answer is that the Governor has to act according to the advice of the Council of Ministers and he can return the file once for reconsideration. If the file is sent again by the Chief Minister on behalf of his Cabinet, the Governor has no alternative but to accept the recommendations therein.

The case here is different. What is illegal cannot be recommended by the Chief Minister again and if Governor rejects it, he cannot be found fault with. It will be an unprecedented “precedent” in the exercise of constitutional powers by the Governor. Overwhelming public opinion against political leaders/workers being recommended for the post of Information Commissioner will prevent any responsible Cabinet from re-sending the same names. Bitter opposition of civil society to the government’s attempt to undermine the significance of the statutory post also will play a crucial role.

Unfortunately, the government has exhibited utter disregard to the basic purposes of Right to Information Law. Its inaction for more than a year has already defeated its purpose. By approving the remaining four names, three former bureaucrats and a journalist, the Governor filled the “void” in the State Information Commission. While the law stipulated that it should be a multi-member body, the government allowed it to function as a single-member body with only Chief Information Commissioner Jannat Hussain at the helm.

Besides meticulously avoiding the disqualified candidates, the Government has to search for suitably “qualified” persons who can do justice to the objectives of the access law. Leaders should understand that this is not just another corporate chair that could be distributed to satisfy political dissidence within.  

There should be transparency in the process of selection of candidates which should include an examination of antecedents, scrutiny of qualifications, and eligibility. The government should remember this is not another plum position to distribute and also that the people have right to information about their prospective information commissioners.

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