The cabinet Secretariat is on a collision course with the Central Information Commission (CIC). It had decided to file a writ petition in the High Court against the Commission’s decision asking it to produce all documents from “initiation to culmination” in appointing Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary.
The move follows a secretary rank officer Veena Sikri using the Right to Information Act (RTI) to seek answers to Menon’s appointment. Sikri had also alleged gender bias in the Indian Foreign Service.
The Hindustan Times broke the story on March 14, which led the CIC to take note of Sikri’s application filed last year. Before that, Sikri’s RTI application kept moving at different government departments.
Following the HT story, the CIC issued notices to officers in Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Secretariat, Department of Personnel and Training and External Affairs Ministry. It directed them to appear on April 24 for a hearing on Sikri’s appeal.
In a crisply-worded letter, the Cabinet Secretariat has informed the CIC that it will file a writ petition in the High Court on grounds that the secretariat is not in a position to produce all relevant documents concerning Menon’s appointment. Sikri told HT: “By moving court, the Cabinet Secretariat is challenging the very core of the RTI Act. At the same time it is setting an unhealthy precedent. Under Section 18 of the Act, no public authority can deny or withhold any records from the CIC. The Cabinet Secretariat’s stand is an attempt to render the RTI meaningless and toothless.
It is ironic that the RTI Act is passed by the present government with the Cabinet Secretariat being the core authority for its approval. By moving court against it, it is challenging its own creation,” Sikri said. Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer, returned from Bangladesh in November last year, protesting for being superceded for the Foreign Secretary’s post.
Earlier, in her letter to PM Manmohan Singh, Sikri had alleged gender bias stating: “I can only regretfully conclude that I have been discriminated against on grounds of being a woman. My suppression contradicts the stated objectives of the Government of India on promoting gender equality and enhancing the representation of women in the highest level of policy making”.
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