Four years ago, a city-based businessman sold his packaging firm to devote himself to using and popularising the use of India’s nascent Right to Information law.
Now, a three-member group headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and including Opposition leader LK Advani, has named that indefatigable information activist, Shailesh Gandhi, as the country’s new Central Information Commissioner.
Commissioners decide what information the government should share with you under the popular Right to Information law.
This is the first time an information activist has been appointed to the post, and signals the state’s growing acknowledgement of India’s deepening RTI movement.
“The committee has given due representation to all sections of society and this time special efforts have been made to recognise the role of civil society, said Minister of State for Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) Prithviraj Chavan.
Gandhi’s appointment comes after a host of noted civil rights activists suggested names, including his, as candidates for the post of commissioner in letters to Singh and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.
The letters urged the government to make the selection process transparent and fair, instead of deciding on the appointment of commissioners — mostly bureaucrats on the verge of retirement — behind closed doors.
But this has not happened yet.
Three more controversial appointments to the watchdog post include Satyananda Mishra, who currently heads the Centre’s DOPT, senior official at the Central Bureau of Investigation M.L. Sharma and Annapurna Dixit, the widow of late diplomat J.N. Dixit.
In a letter to Sonia Gandhi sent on Thursday, Arvind Kejriwal, a Magsaysay-awarded information activist, argued that these appointments should be scrapped.
“The names we suggested, including Gandhi’s, were merely indicative,” he told Hindustan Times. “The emphasis of our letter was to make the process of appointments transparent to ensure the best people for this very important post.”
Said Gandhi: “I am accepting this post as a service to RTI law. But the battle to make the selection process transparent will continue.”