Special to Firstpost
By Girish Mittal, Krishnaraj Rao & Tejas Patel of Canary Trap
Can the head of a premier administrative selection agency put himself near the top of the list for selection to a plum post? To improve his own chances as a candidate, can he be allowed to turn a blind eye to other applications addressed to him?
Despite having many eligible candidates, can he be allowed to make the list so short that it reduces the selecting committee to a rubber stamp? Is this ethically acceptable?
Documents unearthed under Right to Information Act by Mumbai activist Girish Mittal show what seems to be clear cases of conflict of interest in cases involving AN Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra, who were Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) Secretaries and seeking to become Central Information Commissioners (CIC or IC).
The DoPT is part of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions. While Tiwari got selected in 2005, Mishra got the job in 2008.
Controversially, they put their own names on a tiny short-list before the Prime Minister’s selecting committee, apparently to minimise the chances of their being rejected. They kept the short-list short by eliminating potential competitors.
Many accomplished candidates who wrote with trust and hope to Tiwari and Mishra were sidelined without apparent justification or any sort of procedure. Here are the names of a few who applied for the post of CIC:
• Dinesh Chandra Gupta, former Union Finance Secretary
• GC Srivastava, IAS, former Chief Secretary of Goa
• R Ganesan & G Mohanakumar from Indian Postal Services (IPoS)
• Jagdeep Chhokar, Professor, IIM, Ahmedabad. Qualifications: LLB, MBA, double graduate in engg.
• Lt Gen Arvind Mahajan, PVSM, AVSM, VSM and Bar.
Judging from these biodata, it appears that these candidates were at least as deserving as AN Tiwari, if not more. One of them would probably have been Information Commissioner today if Tiwari had not more or less reserved a seat for himself.
For all that, Tiwari did not even write a reply to the formal letter offering him the job. Not only that, he did not give up his job on being appointed CIC. Instead, he took his time, and joined two-and-a-half months after the letter of offer, without even replying to it. He first exhausted his full tenure as an IAS officer to the last day. He retired upon superannuation, before occupying the seat of Information Commissioner.
If the candidates applying for the CIC/IC posts had known that that the man sifting through their applications would be their prime competitor, they would either have thought again about it or protested about this apparent conflict of interest.
DoPT is a mother ministry for those serving in the administration. It is in charge of their placements. As such, the Secretary, DoPT, occupies a sacred position of trust.
Did Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra abuse that trust for personal gain? Only they know the answers, but Firstpost’s emails to Tiwari elicited no response.
If Tiwari used his position to put his name upfront, Satyananda Mishra used his position to subtly campaign for the appointment of more Information Commissioners towards the end of June 2008. That was the month in which the Prime Minister’s Office asked whether there was a need to expand the Commission.
To this, Mishra wrote a self-serving note about the urgent need to appoint six more commissioners. In July 2008, the PMO specifically requested him to propose a panel of names for the appointment of four more Information Commissioners.
So what did Mishra do? Despite having a wealth of suitable candidates to choose from, he proposed only five names, including his own. Thus, he reduced his chances of being rejected to 20 percent at worst.
In August 2008, the PM’s selection committee rewarded his cleverness by making him an Information Commissioner.
This betrayal of trust got the official stamp of acceptance from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Leader of Opposition LK Advani and former Home Minister Shivraj Patil. The selection committee — constituted under Section 12(3) of the RTI Act — accepted these recommendations unquestioningly. Did they know what went on behind the scenes?
Consequently, DoPT Secretaries Tiwari and Mishra received formal letters of offer for the CIC’s post from their own Under Secretaries.
The Tiwari and Mishra capers may have been in violation of the spirit of constitutional provisions, if not the actual letter of the law.
Here is what Article 319 says on preventing self-selection in such instances:
Art 319. On ceasing to hold office —
(a) the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission shall be ineligible for further employment either under the Government of India or under the government of a state;
(b) the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman or any other member of the Union Public Service Commission or as the Chairman of any other State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the government of India or under the government of a state;
(c) a member other than the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission, or as the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the government of India or under the government of a state;
Continue reading on the next page
(d) a member other than the Chairman of a State Public Service Commission shall be eligible for appointment as the Chairman or any other member of the Union Public Service Commission or as the Chairman of that or any other State Public Service Commission, but not for any other employment either under the government of India or under the government of a State.
Why does Article 319 say all this? Because Public Service Commissions are bodies that help in selections — similar to DoPT’s role in selecting CIC/ICs.
Article 320 describes the role of Public Service Commissions:
(1) It shall be the duty of the Union and the State Public Service Commissions to conduct examinations for appointments to the services of the Union and the services of the state respectively.
(2) It shall also be the duty of the Union Public Service Commission, if requested by any two or more states so to do, to assist those states in framing and operating schemes of joint recruitment for any services for which candidates possessing special qualifications are required.
So isn’t it self-evident that, following the same constitutional principle, DoPT secretaries must not be eligible for appointment to the post of CIC/IC?
And here is what Article 16 says about right to equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters of state employment:
(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the state.”
But did AN Tiwari and Satyananda Mishra give their competitors equal opportunity to compete for the jobs they were after?
Copy of the full RTI report
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:19:30 IST