The state government has finally made appointments on three posts of information commissioners in Maharashtra, which were lying vacant for more than one and half years.
Of the total seven posts of information commissioners, four did not have full-time heads, causing pendency of around 27,000 second appeals across different SIC benches in Maharashtra, including close to 7,000 at Pune bench. Ajit Kumar Jain, former Additional Chief Secretary; Ravindra Jadhav, former Secretary of ex-President Pratibha Patil; and Thanksy Thekkekara, former Additional Chief Secretary have been named as new information commissioners.
Jain bid goodbye to government service on February 28, while other two senior bureaucrats retired from government service only recently. The Maharashtra Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad administered the oath to the newly appointed commissioners at a formal function held in Mumbai on Monday.
The fourth appointment of Vasant Patil, executive engineer of Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation, has also been made but he did not take oath on Monday as the tenure of his current post is scheduled to end by March. Newsline had recently highlighted how the pendency of second appeals made under the RTI Act has been mounting at various benches of State Information Commission (SIC) due to the vacuum at top.
Responding to Newsline query about the time frame required for due appointments, the Chief Minister’s Office had on February 5 asked the General Administration Department (GAD) to take necessary steps. However, these appointments have not gone down well with RTI activists. RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar slammed the latest appointments. “As per the RTI Act, the Chief Information Commissioner and 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. The Act nowhere says that only retired top bureaucrats be appointed on these key posts. The RTI community has serious doubts over the rationale behind these appointments,” he said.
It is noteworthy that except senior journalist Vijay Kuvalekar, who was information commissioner of Pune bench for a term of five years till February 2012 and also served as acting Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra for some time, the state government has appointed only retired bureaucrats on SIC benches.
Another RTI activist Vivek Velankar said the four latest appointments are purely bureaucratic in nature and could be considered as post-retirement benefit for the top babus. “Such appointments are detrimental to the RTI Act. None of the newly appointed information commissioners have any exposure to the RTI Act, but now they will be judges of the transparency law.
The government does not want any other experts on SIC benches due to its own vested interests,” he said. RTI activists, however, also said the government has offered something better than nothing by making fresh appointments before the model code of conduct for forthcoming elections kicks in.