The government has restored the financial powers of the chief information commissioner (CIC) taken away less than a year earlier. The move had prompted Congress president Sonia Gandhi to accuse the government of nibbling away at the watchdog’s authority.
The government had initially handed over the CIC’s financial powers to the department of personnel and training (DoPT) secretary in September last year. In face of mounting criticism from RTI activists, the government delegated the financial powers this March to the commission’s secretary, also a civil servant.
This week, it finally decided to give the commission the financial autonomy that would reduce the watchdog’s dependence on the government for approvals in financial matters.
“I am directed to say.... the powers of a department of the central government have now been restored to the chief information commissioner,” DoPT deputy secretary GS Arora said in a letter to the information watchdog this week.
RTI activist Lokesh Batra called the commission’s autonomy key to a strong transparency regime. “It was a mistake to strip the CIC of its financial powers on questionable grounds,” he added.
Documents accessed by Batra showed how the civil servants claimed the CIC had been inadvertently given the powers in 2006. But the file in which this decision was taken went missing.
In a rare intervention in Lok Sabha in May, Gandhi had called the move “a brutal blow to the autonomy” of the CIC.
“It was unfortunate how the CIC’s financial powers were shunted out when the post was vacant,” said Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS).