New Delhi: Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has written to President Droupadi Murmu alleging that the government has “totally kept [him] in the dark” about the selection of Heeralal Samariya as the chief information commissioner (CIC). Samariya was administered the oath of office on Monday, November 7.
Chowdhury is the representative from the opposition on the three-member high-powered selection committee, headed by the prime minister, constituted to appoint information commissioners and CIC. According to the Right to Information Act, 2005, the CIC and ICs are appointed by the President on the recommendation of this committee, comprising the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha (in this case the leader of the largest Opposition party) and a Union minister nominated by the prime minister. It may be noted the LoP in Lok Sabha has been vacant since 2014 on account of no party winning at least 10% of seats as required.
“It is with extreme sadness and a heavy heart that I bring to your notice that all democratic norms, customs, and procedures were thrown to the wind in the matter of selection of the Central Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners,” he wrote, pointing out that the government neither consulted nor informed him about the selection.
According to the Indian Express, sources close to Chowdhury said the government communicated to him the meeting dates of the committee and later changed them, forcing him to change his schedule and his scheduled travel to Kolkata to be available for the committee’s meeting in Delhi. Despite that, they say, the selection of Samariya’s name has been announced without him being consulted.
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) had reached out to him in the last week of October seeking his availability for the committee’s meeting. His office informed them that he was available in Delhi until November 2 and then he had to travel to West Bengal to attend a pre-scheduled meeting on November 3, Chowdhury said.
He then received communication from the DoPT telling him that the meeting had been scheduled for 6 pm on November 3. Chowdhury then wrote to Union minister of personnel, public grievances, and pensions, Jitendra Singh, urging him to reschedule the meeting.
“As for the schedule of the meeting, my office was continuously in touch with officers concerned of the DoPT. It was informed in very clear terms that owing to a pre-scheduled function that I have to attend in West Bengal, it would not be possible for me to attend the meeting as per the schedule proposed,” Chowdhury’s letter dated November 1 said.
He then goes on to say, “It was requested that the meeting may be re-scheduled to be held on 1st or 2nd November, 2023, or at 9 am on 3 November, 2023, instead of 6 pm on that day. As I am committed to attend the pre-scheduled meeting in the evening of 3 November, 2023, I am compelled to express my inability to attend the meeting as per the schedule proposed.”
The next thing that Chowdhury heard was that the government had gone ahead and appointed Samariya as the CIC without even informing him before making the decision.
“I, despite being a member of the selection committee in my capacity as the leader of the largest Opposition party in Lok Sabha, was totally kept in the dark about the selection of the CIC/ICs, at the meeting that was held at the residence of the PM, November 3, 2023. The fact that within hours of the meeting in which only the PM and the Home Minister were present and the ‘face of the Opposition’, that is, me, as a bona fide member of the selection committee was not present, the names of the selected candidates were announced, notified and also sworn into office, only indicates that the entire selection exercise was predetermined,” he charged.
Following the conclusion of the previous CIC Y.K. Sinha’s tenure on October 3, the post had been vacant until Samariya’s appointment. Before taking over as CIC, Samariya had been information commissioner since November 2020. Prior to that, he had served as labour and employment secretary in the Union government.
Besides Samariya, the government has also appointed Anandi Ramalingam and Vinod Kumar Tiwari as information commissioners. Ramalingam was serving as the chairman and managing director of Bharat Electronics Ltd prior to his latest appointment, and Vinod Kumar Tiwari, an Indian Forest Service officer, was holding the post of head of force-cum-principal chief conservator of forests as head of Himachal Pradesh forest department.