Sonia Gandhi to lead Congress charge against headless institutions

  • Chetan Chauhan & Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 06, 2015 00:00 IST

The Congress is set to launch a scathing attack on the NDA regime over long-pending vacancies in top government organisations as party president Sonia Gandhi moves an adjournment motion on the issue on Wednesday.

A string of the country’s leading statutory bodies such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Information Commission have been functioning without a chief for months now, while the Election Commission has been reduced to a single-member body, hobbling the pace of decision making.

"Yes, the Congress president is going to move an adjournment motion tomorrow. It will be on various vacancies including the CVC, the CIC, et al," party leader Mallikarjun Kharge told HT.

The motion will deal with how crucial institutions have been undermined by the government's failure to fill up vacancies, sources added.

The Congress has increasingly hardened its stance against government policies in recent months as it tries to bring opposition parties together against the NDA, after successfully stalling a controversial land bill in the upper House, where the ruling coalition is in a minority.

During the previous UPA regime, Gandhi was instrumental in the enactment of the landmark Right to Information Act that set up the Central Information Commission as the final authority to uphold a citizen’s information right.

But the commission has been without a chief since August 2014, when incumbent Rajiv Mathur retired. The government also dragged its feet over the appointment of two other information commissioners who retired in the interim.

As a result, the appeals before the chief information commissioner – who decides petitions against important offices including the PMO -- have doubled to over 14,000 cases since August.

The increasing backlog even forced the Delhi high court on Monday to ask the senior-most commissioner to adjudicate cases until a CIC was appointed.

This, however, isn’t the only case of an organisation facing such a crunch. For the first time in over two decades, India’s poll watchdog only has one member – chief election commissioner Syed Nasim Zaidi – after the government failed to replace VS Sampath and his successor HS Brahma, when they retired in January and April, respectively.

Old-timers said the panel has had at least one CEC and one election commissioner since 1993, when the government made the EC a three-member body.

“Normally, the government announces the name of the election commissioner close to the retirement of an incumbent commissioner,” an EC official said.

A source, however, said the government was in the process of finalising the names of the election commissioners but was not sure when the announcement would be made.

But it isn't just statutory bodies that are hamstrung by vacancies. The government’s key investigating wing on financial issues and black money, the Enforcement Directorate, also hasn’t had a regular director since July 2014.

Another such case was the sacking of Avinash Chander as the head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation in January by a cabinet committee that said he would be replaced with a younger scientist. On Tuesday, defence secretary RK Mathur was asked to continue overseeing the defence research department till his retirement later this month.

A government official said it wasn’t unusual to ask another secretary to temporarily hold fort but conceded the long duration of this period was striking.

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