Finance ministry officials have distanced from the controversial move to strip the chief information commissioner (CIC) of his financial powers in March this year, suggesting they may have been misunderstood by their counterparts at the department of personnel & training (DoPT).
The decision had exposed the Modi government to accusations of weakening the transparency law from Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the Parliament during the Budget session.
The transparency watchdog’s powers were restored last month but not before the finance ministry’s expenditure department laid the blame for the mess at the doors of DoPT.
The finance ministry and DoPT files accessed under the right to information act reveals how nobody wanted to own responsibility. “It is really unfortunate how decisions relating to this important issue are taken,” said retired naval officer Lokesh Batra who received the files under RTI.
Last year, when the CIC’s post fell vacant, DoPT had initially given the CIC’s financial powers to its secretary Sanjay Kothari. In March, Kothari cleared the decision to delegate this power to the information commission’s secretary.
The note argued that the CIC had been inadvertently given this power in 2006 since the DoPT secretary couldn’t delegate his powers to a superior authority (CIC).
After Gandhi’s barbs in Parliament and criticism from activists outside, the government grabbed the first opportunity to reverse its decision when Vijai Sharma was appointed the CIC. That the CIC secretary’s post was going to fall vacant helped.
On file, DoPT attributed the contentious 11 March order to the advice from its financial adviser SC Panda, who had since then been transferred out.
It recommended restoring the powers to Sharma since the CIC commission’s post was to fall vacant.
The DoPT conveniently skipped any reference to the argument that a superior authority [CIC] could not be delegated powers by a subordinate [DoPT secretary].
When the file reached the finance ministry, officials insisted the March order did not have their approval.
It turned out they had only cleared appointment of a financial adviser for the CIC without giving their views on stripping the CIC of his powers.
And DoPT misinterpreted its letter and assumed its approval.