A few Right to Information (RTI) activists have raised objections to one of the two appointments made to the Andhra Pradesh Information Commission on Thursday. Members of the United Forum for RTI Campaign (UFRTI) in Andhra Pradesh have pointed out that the appointment of Repala Srinivasa Rao as one of the Commissioners in the Andhra Pradesh Information Commission is illegal, as he has close ties to the ruling YSRCP.
Two new appointments were made to the State Information Commission earlier this week by the Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan, based on recommendations from the selection committee headed by Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy. Apart from Srinivasa Rao, retired IAS officer P Ramesh Kumar was appointed as the State Chief Information Commissioner.
With this, the strength of the Commission went up from four to six members. Chakradhar Buddha of UFRTI notes that while the new appointments were much needed and can help speed up the process of dealing with pending cases with the Commission, Srinivasa Rao has openly been affiliated with the ruling YSRCP in Piduguralla town of Guntur district.
In a letter to Chief Minister Jagan, UFRTI has observed that the appointment is in violation of section 15 of the RTI Act, 2005.
Section 15 (5) of the Act states that the Chief Information Commissioner and the state Information Commissioners must be â€śpersons 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.â€ť It also specifies that none of the Commissioners can be â€śa Member of Parliament or Member of the Legislature of any state or Union territory, as the case may be, or hold any other office of profit or be connected with any political party or carry on any business or pursue any professionâ€ť.
While these are the first appointments made to the Information Commission since the YSRCP government came to power in 2019, a similar issue arose when the TDP was in power. In early May 2019, the TDP governmentâ€™s proposal to appoint two candidates â€” Ilapuram Raja and Eerla Sriramamurthy â€” had triggered a controversy, as they had close ties to the then ruling TDP.
Activists pointed out that at the time, the YSRCP, which was in opposition, and party leader Vijayasai Reddy, in particular, had vehemently spoken against the politicisation of the Information Commission. Vijayasai Reddy had even written to then Chief Secretary LV Subrahmanyam to intervene in the matter.
Of the two contested candidates with TDP ties, Eerla Sriramamurthy's name was eventually dropped. However, Ilapuram Raja â€” a hotelier and son of former MLC of TDP Ilapuram Venkaiah â€” is presently one of the Information Commissioners.
RTI activists say that the YSRCP is now misusing its power in a similar way through Srinivasa Raoâ€™s appointment.
According to Section 15 (3) of the RTI Act, the appointments to the Commission must be recommended by a committee consisting of the Chief Minister, the Leader of Opposition and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the CM. However, Leader of Opposition N Chandrababu Naidu abstained from the meeting where the names of Srinivasa Rao and P Ramesh Kumar were finalised.
Last year, when the discrepancies over the appointments arose, activists had alleged that then Leader of Opposition Jagan Mohan Reddy never took part in the decision-making process.
Previously, the Andhra Pradesh High Court and the Supreme Court had quashed the appointments of four State Information Commissioners because of their political affiliations.