ORISSA MAKES THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT A FARCE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Freedom from bureaucratic machiavellianism was the sole purpose behind enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005. But Orissa Government has made it a farce by recommending only two persons to form the first Information Commission of the State in which the corrupt bureaucracy shall see its rampart well protected.

A committee constituted under Sub-Section 3 of Section 15 of the Act, comprising Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Leader of Opposition J.B.Pattanaik and Damodar Raut, a member of the Cabinet nominated by the Chief Minister, has recommended the names of D.N.Padhi and Radhamohan for the post of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioner (IC) respectively. Padhi is currently working as the Union Power Secretary when Radhamohan has retired from Orissa Education Service. When the former has spent almost entire span of his career in Orissa administration, the later, whose recruitment was meant for teaching economics in Colleges, has spent almost all the years of his career not in any College, but in the State Secretariat as a scientist!

If these two fellows did not commit any corruption during their tenure in Orissa then it must be assumed that there is no corruption in Orissa.

But everybody knows Orissa administration is full of corruption. And, the bureaucrats know where and when who of them committed or commits what sort of corruption.

Corruption is a vicious game played by bureaucrats under the canopy of their mutual cooperation. So there must be many people in Orissa bureaucracy, starting from clerks to Secretaries, who must be knowing what were the corruptions committed by Padhi and Radhamohan during their long tenure in Orissa. How these fellows constituting the only two-member-Commission can come up against the same persons who must know their questionable conducts, if any, in course of their career, is a question to which no answer is known to anybody.

A suspicion is still nagging in the minds of many that Padhi, had he not been a senior IAS officer, could not have been free from the blemish that had soiled his cloths in the matter of official purchases following the 1999 killer cyclone. If somebody now invokes the Act to dig out what really had happened and if the concerned Office refuses him access, what would be inferred? Similarly, when some one will want to know if using his Secretariat position, Radhamohan had provided benefits to the NGO called Sambhav with which he is associated, what would be its impact?

Therefore, a lot of precaution should have been taken in selecting the CIC or IC. I do not know if the selection flew from free choice or from a guided choice. But there is reason to apprehend that information blockers against whom the Act has stringent provisions may bargain for leniency through blackmail, if these two persons are appointed.

This apprehension would never have arisen had the legislative intention behind the Act been properly understood before the selection. Meant to grant access to the citizens to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority the Act was from the beginning considered to be an instrument against bureaucracy. Hence bureaucracy as a whole had heightened its lobby against the Act and politicians who benefit from collaboration with bureaucracy were opposing it. Many concerns and questions were raised during discussion on the Bill in the Parliament.

Putting forth the legislative intention, the Prime Minister had to call upon the civil servants to see the Bill in a positive spirit; not as a draconian law for paralysing Government, but as an instrument for improving Government-citizen interface resulting in a friendly, caring and effective Government functioning for the good of our people.

So saying, the P.M. had further said, “I appeal all civil servants to see this Bill in the right spirit and hope they will only be spurred towards better performance”. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on the very words “civil Servants” eventually proceeded to specification when he stressed that “the passage of this Bill will see the dawn of a new era in our processes of governance, an era of performance and efficiency, an era which will ensure that benefits of growth flow to all sections of our people, an era which will eliminate the scourge of corruption, an era which will bring the common man’s concern to the heart of all processes of governance, an era which will truly fulfil the hopes of the founding fathers of our Republic”. (Lok Sabha debates, 11 May 2005)

Hence it is clear that the right to information given by the Act to the citizens of India is meant for curbing corruption in bureaucracy.

It is therefore shocking that in Orissa an incumbent bureaucrat, whose integrity in public perception is still shrouded by nagging suspicions and a retired economic teacher who deceived the State for many years donning the attire of a ‘scientist’, have been chosen as the Chief Commissioner and Commissioner of the State’s first Information Commission. What a mockery!

The three-member committee of power-politicians, by selection of these two fellows, have individually as well as collectively played a fraud upon the people of Orissa.

Governor Rameswar Thakur would do a wrong if he accepts this selection. Before proceeding to accept the recommendation of the committee it would be better for him to peruse Sub-Section 5 of Section 15 of the Act. It says: THE STATE CHIEF INFORMATION COMMISSIONER AND THE STATE INFORMATION COMMISSIONERS SHALL BE PERSONS OF EMINENCE IN PUBLIC LIFE WITH WIDE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE IN LAW, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, SOCIAL SERVICE, MANAGEMENT, JOURNALISM, MASS MEDIA OR ADMINISTRATION AND GOVERNANCE.

So the Committee should have selected PERSONS OF EMINENCE IN PUBLIC LIFE, which necessarily means PERSONS OF UNQUESTIONABLE INTEGRITY WHO HAVE EARNED RESPECTABLE PLACE IN THE LIFE OF THE PUBLIC and in whom the public have grown and shown confidence. Such people of eminence in public life, the Act stipulates, should have wide knowledge and experience in Law, Science & Technology, Social service, management, Journalism, Mass media, or Administration and governance.

But the Committee of three politicians that made the selection did not want to make a choice from all these segments even though Orissa has many eminent persons of impeachable place in public life having wide knowledge and experience in all these segments.

Misled by officialdom it has erred in accepting official employment as ‘Administration and governance’ and equated government service with public life.

The Act has never equated official employment with administration and governance. Had by ‘administration and governance’ official employment was to be meant, then instead of these three words, the Act would have noted a single word ‘bureaucracy’. So the words ‘administration and governance’ must be construed as Company, Banking, Industrial, University or NGO management, or can be taken as erstwhile Ministers who are no more with any political party or outfit. But by no stretch of imagination, these words can be accepted as employment in any government office.

Under these interpretations, Padhi and Radhamohan are not eligible to hold the offices of CIC and IC respectively and hence selection and recommendation of their names for the said posts by the Committee of three politicians is devoid of legality.

It would be proper therefore for the Governor of Orissa to turn down the recommendation and to refuse to appoint them.

The farce that is being enacted in Orissa in the name of Right to Information Act must not be allowed to proceed.

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