HYDERABAD: Irked by the way in which information commissioners have been appointed to the AP Information Commission (APIC) in “violation of guidelines,” Right to Information (RTI) activists are planning to take legal recourse for remedy.
V V Rao, convenor of the Social Audit Council on Information Rights, said his organisation will go to court if governor E S L Narasimhan approves the names referred to him by the government. The question remains whether the guv will do so at all. Sources said he has not yet seen the file. On an earlier occasion, Narasimhan had shot down a recommendation from the government to appoint a former information commissioner to the AP Administrative Tribunal citing nonadherence to rules. RTI activists are demanding to know the procedure adopted in selecting the nominees.
Asks Rao: “We need quality persons in the State Information Commission.
How else can the 10,000 pending cases be disposed of?” Section 15.6 of the RTI Act 2005 states: ‘’The State Chief Information Commissioner or a State Information Commissioner shall not be a Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any state or union territory or hold any office of profit or be connected with any political party or carrying on any business or pursuing any profession.” But four of the information commissioners appointed have a political background.
One of them, M Vijaya Nirmala contested and lost the Nuzvid Assembly seat in Krishna district on a PRP ticket in 2009. She is also related to Avanti Srinivasa Rao, PRP MLA from Bheemunipatnam. Her party boss Chiranjeevi is said to have been keen that she be appointed as information commissioner. Similarly, Tantia Kumari, daughter of the late Koneru Ranga Rao, has been active in Congress, having been a ZPTC member and a ticket-seeker in the 2009 election. Then there is Imtiaz Ahmed who has been accommodated in the commission on the basis of being a retired civil judge.
But after demitting office in 2004, he joined the TDP and contested an election against chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy in 2004 and 2009 and lost both times. He recently joined the Congress and has been rewarded with the post of information commissioner. Nalgonda lawyer V Venkateswarlu has been described as a social activist but the fact remains that he has an NSUI and Youth Congress background. Then there are two retired and one serving civil services officers who have been taken as information commissioners though appointment of such officers might lead to conflict of interest when anyone seeks information from a department that they had headed.
Madhukar Raj, an Indian Forest Service officer, worked as principal chief conservator of forests while S Prabjakar Reddy, an IPS officer, worked as the Cyberabad Police Commissioner. M Ratan, who is now director-general, vigilance & enforcement, is due to retire in April.
RTI activist C J Karira said there has been no transparency in the appointments.
Nor will they lead to timely disposal of cases. “What is the point of selecting those who have a political background or bureaucrats? There’s surely going to be a conflict of interest and destroy the purpose of the Act”, he said. Karira added that appointment of political persons and IPS officers was in direct contradiction to Section 15.5 and 15.6 of the RTI Act. “Even the appointment of social worker V Venkateswarlu is surprising since none of the activist groups we are in touch with have even heard of him.” Y P Ramakrishna, president of It’s Time to Make a Difference, says: “Fourteen eminent applicants, who were well versed with RTI and had no political leanings, had applied for the post of ICs.
But none of them was considered. Instead women like Lamu Tantiya Kumari, whose son is being accused of playing a part in the Ayesha murder case, and Prabhakar Reddy, a former police Commissioner of Cyberabad who during his tenure failed to reply to even one RTI query directed at his office have been appointed.
We demand to know the criteria by which the present lot were selected.” Chief information commissioner Jannat Hussain, however, welcomed the appointments and hoped that it would help improve transparency and speedy disposal of cases pending at the State Information Commission. “We wish to reduce the waiting period from two years to three months within the next six months, once the new IC’s take charge.”