Haryana Secretary, Administrative Reforms Department, Pradeep Kasni has questioned the haste with which new information commissioners were sworn in by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda at his residence on Sunday.
“Ideally, the government should have waited for the new Governor to take oath and followed procedure. But for some reasons best known to them, everything was done at an unprecedented pace and the CM administered oath to those selected,” Kasni told The Indian Express.
Among those sworn in as information commissioners were the wife of Hooda’s political advisor and his advisor (health). They took oath along with other commissioners at a hurriedly organised event at Hooda’s residence on a day new Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki was to assume office.
Correspondence accessed by The Indian Express shows that the appointment of the new information commissioners was initiated by the state government without any request from the CIC.
On January 6, 2014, the state Administrative Reforms Department sent a letter to CIC Naresh Gulati saying that the “CM has ordered that necessary action for appointment of State Information Commissioners be taken”. “In compliance”, the department said, it requested the CIC “to furnish advice whether any number of posts of State Information Commissioners needs to be filled up in the Commission. If yes, the justification for the same may kindly be supplied”.
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At the time, Haryana had seven information commissioners. It is entitled to 10.
In response, Gulati did not make any specific recommendation or demand for additional information commissioners. Rather, he left it to the state government to take a call.
Kasni said the Hooda government took this an “alibi”. “That since the CIC had not raised any clear objection to the expansion, they can go ahead.” Haryana Chief Secretary S C Chaudhary, however, said, “Due procedures were followed and eminent people with distinguished backgrounds were appointed.”
Choudhary incidentally is among the beneficiaries of Sunday’s appointments. Due to retire on July 31, he has been appointed chairperson of the Right to Service Commission.
On Sunday, before the swearing-in of commissioners, those among them yet to retire sought voluntary retirement. This was approved and the new appointment letters issued minutes before the ceremony. While Shiv Raman Gaur (Advisor, Health) and Rekha Rani (the wife of Hooda’s political advisor Virender Singh) took oath as information commissioners, Dr Amar Singh (the husband of Justice Daya Chaudhary, who is hearing several cases against the Haryana government) was sworn in as commissioner, Right to Service Commission.
Sarban Singh and Sunil Katyal were also appointed commissioners, Right to Service Commission, along with Amar Singh. Sarban Singh took voluntary retirement as IAS officer, while Katyal was earlier posted in the Haryana Advocate General’s office.
Kasni said the Haryana Chief Secretary had called him the night before to prepare the files for oathtaking. “This was not legal,” he said. “How could oath be administered to people who were yet holding office of profit?” He also recorded his objections in writing on the official file pertaining to the appointments.
Chaudhary said he was within his right to overrule Kasni. “If my subordinate has committed some stupidity, I have all the powers to overrule him,” he said. The Chief Secretary also questioned the timing of Kasni’s objections. “The appointment letters were issued in the morning, before they took oath.”
In another departure, the statutory committee that clears the names of commissioners did not specify the qualifications of those shortlisted. Leader of the Opposition Om Prakash Chautala, who is a member of the statutory committee, had pointed this out in his dissent note on the shortlisting of the names of Dr Amar Singh, Rekha Rani and Gaur as commissioners.