Ahead of the Punjab assembly polls, the state information commission, too, seems to gaining political hues.
The ruling Akali Dal’s ex-netas, who have been appointed as state information commissioners, will now hear and decide cases — seeking information from district administration and police department — of their home turf, as per the new roster issued by chief information commissioner (CIC) Swaran Singh Channi.
What’s more, the changes in the roster have come a week after it was uploaded on commission’s website on September 8. The new roster, uploaded on September 16, comes into effect from September 8.
What has changed between the two rosters is that three information commissioners — all former Akali leaders — have been given their home districts. In the September 8 roster, RTI commissioner Ravinder Singh Nagi was given deputy commissioner/sub-division and tehsil offices of Rupnagar division and police offices of Patiala revenue division among 10 departments allotted to him. The fresh order has given Nagi, whose area of influence is Gurdaspur, DC/sub-division/ tehsil offices of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Pathankot and police offices of Gurdaspur, Batala, Pathankot and Fatehgarh Sahib.
While the September 8 roster took care not to allot his own area — Patiala — to RTI commissioner Harinder Pal Singh Mann, it was overturned in the fresh document. Earlier, he was allotted offices of department of rural development and panchayats, except Patiala and Rupnagar division, and police offices of Rupnagar revenue division. The new roster gave him jurisdiction over DC/subordinate offices of Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala and Fatehgarh Sahib and police offices of Patiala, Rupnagar, Mohali, Sangrur and Barnala.
Similarly, Nirdharak Singh Brar, whose area of influence as an Akali leader was Moga, has been allotted DC/sub-division/ tehsil offices of Ferozepur division, including Moga, Muktsar and Fazilka and police offices in Ferozepur division that includes Moga, Muktsar and Fazilka.
In his latest order on November 2, the CIC has furnished names of commissioners who would visit the districts for review and monitoring of the RTI Act. Here too, Ravinder Nagi gets Gurdaspur, Harinder Pal Patiala and Nirdharak Brar Moga.
When asked, Channi said there was no bar on giving home districts to information commissioners. “Is there a law that prohibits it,” he asked. On the change in the roster within one week, he said: “I hold a statuary position and am not answerable to the media for my decisions.”
Interestingly, the CIC has made no changes in departments under him, which comprise most important departments, including Raj Bhawan, high court, CM office, council of ministers, chief secretary, home affairs and Director general of police office and all state police headquarters and revenue and police offices of Ludhiana district, where Channi had a long stint as DC.
If compared to rosters of Punjab Information Commission in the previous years -- dated August 6, 2013 and January 13, 2014 --- neither has any former political leader appointed as information commissioner been given his home district nor the CIC kept all important departments to himself.
Former chief information commissioner Ramesh Inder Singh says the CIC has absolute discretion to decide allocation of departments. “As far as legality of allocation is concerned, the CIC has absolute powers. When it comes to propriety, it is a question of opinion and interpretation,” he said.
Conflict of interest
Whether such appointments raise the question of conflict of interest, RTI activist HS Hundal says he had to contest a recent order of the information commission to allot cases pertaining to Punjab Small Industries Corporation to information commissioner Yashvir Mahajan, a former MD of the corporation. “The cases were then transferred to some other commissioner. Similarly, the allotment of home districts to commissioners will raise question of conflict of interest if they favour government departments of their own districts in their orders,” he added.