Former defence secretary Radha Krishna Mathur has been cleared for the post of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC). He will be serving for nearly three years, making him the second-longest serving CIC.
Mathur’s selection as the eighth CIC — cleared by the high-level selection panel headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday and approved by President Pranab Mukherjee Thursday — is a departure from the convention of appointing the most senior Information Commissioner (IC) as the CIC.
The new CIC’s appointment will also kill any chance whatsoever of most senior IC Basant Seth, who will be completing his tenure by February 15, 2017, much before Mathur’s on November 24, 2018.
From the time of the first CIC, Wajahat Habibulla, and his successors A N Tewari, Satyanand Mishra, Deepak Sandhu, Sushma Singh, Rajiv Mathur till outgoing CIC Vijai Sharma, whose tenure ended on December 1, the convention has been to appoint the senior-most IC as the CIC. Mathur is not only junior to many, but also a fresh face on the panel.
Defending the selection, Habibulla said, “Seniority had become a convention. It was not a rule. The government has every right to select anybody as CIC considering his eligibility.”
And since the new CIC is not from the present crop of information commissioners, no new IC has been appointed because the Delhi High Court has directed the government to fill vacancies of the three commissioners from among the old applicants who applied last year and a plea against which is pending in the Supreme Court. The plea will be heard on January 4.
While contacted by The Indian Express about his priorities following his appointment, Mathur said, “I have not received the order yet, so I would not speak for now.”
Sources in the DoPT said one of the reasons for selecting the new CIC from “outside” was that the government needed somebody who is there for a sufficient time, so as to avoid frequent selection processes.
The CIC is appointed for five years or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier, and has a rank equivalent to Chief Justice of India and Chief Election Commissioner.
Mathur’s appointment has reportedly made the information commissioners unhappy. One of the commissioners, who did not want to be named, said, “The reason of motivation for the commissioners has gone now. Why should we work hard if we have no chance of being elevated to the top post?”
The selection panel includes Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge.