Why only ‘babus’ shortlisted for appointment as information commissioners : Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the Centre as to why only retired or sitting bureaucrats were being shortlisted by the search committee for appointment as information commissioners.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer was told by the government that chief information commissioner and four information commissioners have already been appointed while the process for appointing other information commissioners was underway.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said that search committee has recommended 14 names for consideration to the selection committee for appointing information commissioners.

“In these 14 names, apart from bureaucrats (retired or sitting) is there anybody else?,” the bench asked.

To this, the ASG said one of the 14 persons is a retired judge while rest are bureaucrats.

“Their (petitioners) objection is that only civil servants are there. Ultimately, you do not find even a single person other than bureaucrats,” the bench told the ASG.

The bench also observed that the search committee comprises of civil servants only.

The apex court is hearing a plea filed by RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired) and Amrita Johri who have claimed that over 23,500 appeals and complaints are pending with the CIC as posts of information commissioners are lying vacant.

During the hearing, the ASG told the court that process of appointing information commissioners was an ongoing exercise and government is following the selection criteria prescribed under the RTI Act.

Advocate Pranav Sachdeva, appearing for the petitioners, said that cases in State Information Commissions (SICs) are kept pending for years due to non-availability of information commissioners and in West Bengal, cases filed in 2008 is being decided now.

He said that as per apex court’s December 13 last year order, the Centre should have put on the website the names of members of search committee, candidates who have been shortlisted and criteria which was followed for selection but it was done only after appointment of four information commissioners.

“This information should have been made public during the process of appointment and not after the appointment was already being done,” Sachdeva said, adding, “transparency in the entire process is required”.

He said that the government was appointing only retired or sitting civil servants as information commissioners but names of persons like activists, scientists, journalists, lawyers and others should also be considered for appointment.

The ASG told the court that government has complied with the requirements during the process of appointing chief information commissioner and information commissioners and the details were uploaded on the website.

She said 280 applicants had applied in the process and while some vacancies have been filed up, the process for others was going on.

The counsel appearing for West Bengal told the bench that they already have one state chief information commissioner and three state information commissioner and they would review the situation within six months and see whether they needed more state information commissioners.

Similarly, counsel appearing for Andhra Pradesh said they have three state information commissioners and process to fill up the vacancy was already underway.

The petitioners counsel informed the bench that 10 state information commissioners have recently retired in Uttar Pradesh and he has filed a separate application in the court in this regard.

The bench asked the states to file affidavits within two-three days giving details of the steps taken by them in filing up the existing vacancies.

The apex court had earlier asked the Centre and states to maintain transparency in appointments of chief information commissioner and information commissioners and upload details of search committees and applicants on the website.

In July last year, the top court had expressed concern over vacancies at the chief information commission and state information commissions and had directed the Centre and seven states to file an affidavit giving a time schedule for filling up the posts.

The court had asked seven states — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Karnataka — to apprise it about the time frame for filling up the posts.

The petitioners have said that several information commissions like in Gujarat and Maharashtra were functioning without the chief information commissioner, even though the RTI Act envisages a crucial role for this post on which the administration and superintendence of commission is vested.

The plea has claimed that the Centre and state governments have “attempted to stifle” the functioning of the RTI Act by failing to do their statutory duty of ensuring the appointments in a timely manner.

Supreme Court asks Centre to apprise it about the total allocation of Haj quota seats and the vacancies

The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to apprise it by tomorrow about the total allocation of Haj quota seats and the vacancies if any on a plea of the Kerala Haj Committee alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims was discriminatory.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, representing the Centre, to file an affidavit by tomorrow giving details of the total Haj quota seats and the figure of such seats which are yet to be allocated.

During the hearing, the ASG said the Union of India had been allowed by the Saudi Arabian government to send 1.75 lakh Haj pilgrims every year and the Centre and the Central Haj Committee, in consultation with the state Haj panels, have devised a mechanism to distribute the quota on the basis of the Muslim population in each state.

Out of 1.75 lakh Haj seats, 1.25 lakh seats are distributed by the state Haj committees while the remaining seats are given to private tour operators as per the policy decision, the law officer said.

Earlier, the apex court, in an interim direction, had asked the Centre to file a statement with regard to the fifth time applicants who have crossed the age of 65 years and were below 70 years and have never been able to go for the Haj.

The apex court, on January 5, had issued the notice sought to the Centre on the Kerala Haj Committee’s plea alleging that the policy to grant state-wise quota for Haj pilgrims was discriminatory.

The Kerala Haj committee, in its plea, had referred to the example of Bihar and said it gets 12,000 Haj seats as against the total number of applicants of 6,900.

In stark contrast, Kerala gets 6,000 seats against 95,000 applicants desirous to go for the pilgrimage, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the committee, had said.

“As a result, every applicant in Bihar gets the opportunity to go for Haj. However, in Kerala, the situation is unpleasant,” he had said, adding that there should be an all-India draw of lots to decide who will go on Haj.

The Kerala Haj Committee alleged that the present quota system was discriminatory.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, had justified the present quota policy saying it had been devised by the Central Haj Committee after considering the suggestions of 31 different state Haj committees.

Aircel-Maxis case: SC recalls order asking Marans to move Delhi HC

The court had earlier refused to entertain the plea of the former Telecom Minister and his brother and said they could approach the Delhi High Court against the 2G court order summoning them as accused.
The Supreme Court on Friday recalled its order refusing to entertain the petitions of former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Aircel-Maxis caseto quash summons in the Aircel-Maxis case by a special court trying the 2G spectrum scandal. The Centre objected to the hearing in the morning and said another bench led by CJI H.L.Dattu is already hearing all matters related to spectrum cases. The development came a couple of hours after the bench headed by Justice V. Gopala Gowda refused to hear the Maran brothers.

Just before the bench comprising Justices Gowda and R. Banumathi was about to rise for the lunch break, Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) Pinky Anand mentioned on behalf of the CBI that all matters arising out of the 2G spectrum scam probe were being heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India.

The ASG said there is a specific order of the apex court that any matter arising out of the 2G spectrum case has to be heard by it and no other court in the country shall entertain it.

Taking on record the submission of the ASG, the bench recalled its order and posted it before the bench headed by Justice Dattu on February 9, 2015.

Earlier in the day, the court refused to entertain the plea of the former Telecom Minister and his brother, saying they could approach the Delhi High Court against the trial court order summoning them as accused.

The bench said it was not inclined to interfere in the matter which has arisen out of the 2G spectrum allocation scam probe.

“You have to exhaust your remedy under Article 226 of the Constitution and then come here. We don’t see any issue of fundamental jurisdiction here. If we say anything, every person will come here saying their fundamental right is violated.

“We cannot interfere as the charge sheet has already been filed. If there is no case against you (Marans), then you can ask for a discharge,” the bench said after which Marans withdrew their petition.

During the hearing, senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, appearing for Dayanidhi Maran, said that this case is not related to 2G spectrum allocation scam probe and that not a single licence was allotted by him during his tenure as telecom minister.

On October 29 last year, a special 2G court had summoned Maran brothers and six others, including Malaysian business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan as accused in the Aircel-Maxis deal case.

The Special CBI court had directed them to appear before it on March 2, 2015 after taking cognisance of the charge sheet filed against eight accused including four companies — Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd, Maxis Communication Berhad, Astro All Asia Network PLC and South Asia Entertainment Holding Ltd.

The CBI had said in court that Dayanidhi Maran had “pressured” and “forced” Chennai-based telecom promoter C. Sivasankaran to sell his stakes in Aircel and two subsidiary firms to Malaysian firm Maxis Group in 2006.