The NDA government appointed three retired civil servants as information commissioners on Wednesday, making it the first time that the transparency watchdog will have the full complement of the chief and 10 information commissioners.
This will also be the first time that all the information commissioners except a law professor are from the government or the public sector.
An official announcement on Thursday named former IAS officers, Bimal Julka and Amitava Bhattacharyya and a retired IPS officer Divya Prakash Sinha. Julka had retired as information & broadcasting secretary, Bhattacharyya was chairman of the Staff Selection Commission and Sinha, a counter-terror veteran was secretary (security) at the Cabinet Secretariat.
The three information commissioners will hold the posts till they turn 65.
Right from 2005 when the commission was set up under the right to information law, the CIC has lived with vacancies as part of an unwritten, and unspoken strategy within the civil service to bring about a situation where the panel was overburdened.
“This ensured that appeals over a period of time take a long time to be heard... reducing the commission’s effectiveness, and nuisance value,” a government officer – who was closely associated with the appointment process in the past – told Hindustan Times.
The vacancy also gave the government elbow room to accommodate an influential official after retirement.
For instance, the CIC had started out with five commissioners in 2005. By 2008, it had eight. In 2011, there were as few as five and in 2012, there were only seven of them.
But the credit for this record does not entirely go to the government; it was RTI activists such as Lokesh Batra and RK Jain, who had moved the court against the vacancies. At its last hearing, the court gave the government six weeks to complete the selection process.
Last week’s meeting of the selection committee – that rejected Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi’s claim – was timed to enable the government to comply with the apex court’s deadline that ends this week.