Wait for real transparency
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The Union Cabinet has reversed its July 2006 decision to limit the disclosure of file notings to certain issues and to exclude certain departments under the RTI Act. While the Cabinet decision is welcome, a major hurdle in the path of transparency in governance is yet to be addressed as file notings of the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC), which clears appointments to more than 2,500 key posts every year, are not being made public despite an order by the chief information commissioner.
This order by then chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah was challenged in the Delhi High Court and was upheld by the court. But the case is now before a two-judge bench and the stay on disclosing ACC file notings continues.
The ACC is made of the Prime Minister, home minister and the minister of the department concerned. It does not meet formally and files are cleared as they are circulated. The panel approves appointments of the rank of joint secretary and above, deputy secretary and above of the central staffing scheme, chairmen of nationalised banks, directors and CMDs of public sector undertakings, heads of autonomous bodies of the Union government, members and heads of tribunals, boards, councils, committees and commissions, chief vigilance officers of Central government departments, secretaries, chairmen, members and general managers of the Railway Board, among others.
"Nobody can be deprived of legal remedies given under law but some departments will have to change their mindset to honor the transparency law," says CIC Satyanand Mishra, referring to the logjam over the ACC notings.
When the supreme court quashed the appointment of P J Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner on grounds that file notings were ignored by the high powered committee (HPC), it had said that, "If a statutory body like the HPC fails to look into the relevant material having nexus to the object... then its decision would stand vitiated on the ground of official arbitrariness".