The government has refused to make public any information relating to the appointment of the next chief information commissioner, insisting that papers relating to the selection process would be made public only after the appointment has been made.
The government’s stance is a contrast to its practice over the last decade when it had given out in response to right to information requests names of those who had applied for the post of information commissioners.
Last week, the department of personnel & training (DoPT), however, seems to have discovered that papers relating to the selection were “cabinet papers”.
“Decision on the appointment for the post of chief information commissioner/information commissioners is not over, therefore, papers related to file ... are exempted under Section 8 (1)(i),” the DoPT said in response to a RTI request, invoking a provision under the law that exempts cabinet papers from disclosure.
Last year when the government did not appoint the CIC for nearly nine months, RTI activists had invoked the information law to figure out that the DoPT had initiated the process on time but was stalled at various levels.
This time too, the DoPT did start the selection process in time when it called for people to apply for the information watchdog’s job in September. It is not clear why the process has not been completed so far. A panel, headed by the prime minister and including the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, is a part of the selection committee that considers names shortlisted by senior civil servants.
RTI activist Lokesh Batra wondered if his request was denied because the information had embarrassed the government the last time and was used to lobby for early appointment of the chief.
“Because the law is very clear that the exemption only applies to cabinet papers. So the real reason for the denial has to lie somewhere else,” he said.
DoPT, however, added the papers would be placed on its website once the appointment process was over.
The practice to place files relating to RTI Act and the CIC in public domain was started on directions of the central information commission in 2012 on an appeal filed by HT.