Open letter to H.E. the Governor of J&K praying for transparency in selection of the State Information Commission – JKRTIM & Sangarsh – 8 Dec. 2010

The following open letter was presented to & discussed with His Excellency the Governor of J&K on Wednesday by a delegation comprising of JKRTIM & Sangarsh members Balvinder Singh, Raman Sharma, and Ayaz Mughal. Here we are providing the text and the PDF (see below) of the letter. Links to our recommendations for making the process transparent are below, viz. serial numbers 5 & 6.

To:

1. His Excellency, the Governor,

CC:

1. The Hon’ble Chief Minister,

2. The Secretary, J&K State Information Commission

27 Nov. 2010

Your Excellency:

You might be aware from news reports that the Selection Committee for the State Information Commission is due to meet soon. You may also recall that on 5 October, the LOP boycotted the planned Selection Committee meeting that day. The LOP had objected to leaks in the media alleging that Chief Secretary S.S. Kapoor was going to become the Chief Information Commissioner, and thereby implying that the Selection Committee process was only window dressing for a fait accompli.

That evening, there was an exchange of letters between the Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Leader-of-the-Opposition (see references below). In her letter to the CM, the LOP had objected to the lack of “transparency” in the process and the impression given by the Greater Kashmir article that the SIC was being treated a place to reward favored ex-bureaucrats and IPS officers with “post retirement placements.” In his response to the LOP, the Chief Minister thoroughly denied these claims and assured that the selection process would be transparent.

Nonetheless, we continue to receive disturbing reports from journalists and other sources. For example, we recently heard from a senior political figure that at the upcoming Selection Committee meeting, the Government plans to propose to the Leader of the Opposition that 2 SIC seats will be selected by the NC-Congress combine and a 3rd seat will be the pick of the PDP. Such seat-trading would, of course, be an abject perversion of the whole process, and the PDP has assured that the LOP would not allow this to come to pass.

We are also alarmed by an 8 October in the Daily Excelsior wherein an unnamed Government source threatened to “railroad” the Selection Committee if the LOP boycotted the Selection Committee again. The government-sourced article also incorrectly claimed that the J&K RTI Act of 2009 stipulates that “the majority decision taken by two out of three members of the committee will be final.” In fact, this is a false statement. Section 12(3) of the J&K RTI Act says nothing of the sort. The inclusion of the Leader-of-the-Opposition in the Selection Committee implies unanimity in decision-making, as the LOP would otherwise be redundant on a Committee that is dominated by 2 members of the Government. If the Selection Committee makes decisions by majority vote, then the Leader-of-the-Opposition is nothing more than decoration, which cannot have been the intentions of Parliament and the Legislature. This was, in fact, the understanding developed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Leader of the Opposition LK Advani with respect to the Central Selection Committee, and this agreement was confirmed to us again when a delegation of our members met with the Leader of the Opposition Ms. Sushma Swaraj in Delhi on 6 October.

We would like to believe that these reports are nothing but rumors, and that the Government and the Selection Committee as a whole will honor the spirit of the Right to Information by unanimously appointing a strong, independent State Information Commission that is free from officials who had recently retired from the J&K Government.

However, it is our duty as Right to Information activists and watchdogs to alert you of these rumors and media reports, and to ask that as the Governor, you do not consent to the appointments submitted if (1) there is evidence that the Selection Committee’s decisions were not unanimous, or (2) if there is evidence that the Selection Committee has come to its decision without transparency or genuine discussion, or (3) if the Committee’s choices do not reflect a strong, independent Commission, especially if figures with strong conflicts-of-interest such as the Chief Secretary are appointed to the Commission.

We hope that these worst-case fears do not come to pass and that the Selection Committee with be strong and independent.

References:

1. Article on Selection Committee Meeting in Greater Kashmir, published 4 October 2010 by Mudasir Ali, entitled “Kapur, Bhan, Pandit compete for CIC: Selection Panel Meeting On Tuesday”: http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2865

2. Article on Govt’s threat to proceed without LOP in Daily Excelsior, published 8 October 2010 by Sanjeev Pargal, entitled “Govt to go ahead with CIC, ICs appointment”: http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2896

3. Letter from Leader of Opposition to Hon’ble Chief Minister explaining her boycott, sent 5 October 2010: http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2893

4. Letter from Hon’ble Chief Minister to Leader of Opposition in response, sent 5 October 2010: http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2885

5. Letter from J&K RTI Movement to the Selection Committee demanding transparent & consensual process, sent 3 October 2010 http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2868

6. OpEd from J&K RTI Movement in Greater Kashmir, published 14 October 2010, addressing selection process transparency: http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2930

7. Article on JKRTIM meeting Sushma Swaraj in The Tribune, 8 October by Jupinderjit Singh, http://blog.jkrtimovement.org/?p=2917

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