NEW DELHI: Amid mounting pressure to not give a government post to Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi, who is due to retire at the end of February, in the wake of his handling of the Jawaharlal Nehru University case and subsequent violence at Patiala House court, the Centre appears to have decided to drop his name from the list of shortlisted candidates for the informational commissioner position.
While it had earlier said Bassi had been shortlisted along with former Information and Broadcasting Secretary Bimal Julka and former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General Vijaya Moorthy, the government is learnt to have changed its mind as the Congress had opposed his candidature and had conveyed that Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, would oppose Bassi’s name during the meeting of the selection committee, which also comprises Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) selection panel met on Friday, February 19, as the Supreme Court had on January 9 given the government six weeks to appoint the three information commissioners whose post had been lying vacant for almost a year. The CIC has a total of 10 information commissioners.
What also appears to have sealed Bassi’s fate is the fact that apart from the Congress, a number of right to information activists had also opposed his proposed selection.
In a letter to selection committee members, rights activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Shekhar Singh, Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri had objected to Bassi’s candidature, saying his “incompetent conduct in the last few days is a matter of public record and, in fact, even the Supreme Court has been forced to intervene in the matter and call for an explanation from him.”
“An officer under whose charge the police repeatedly failed to prevent attacks on the right to free speech and expression of citizens and journalists, certainly does not deserve a place in the Central Information Commission of India,” they said.
Former Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi had also written to Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha stating that the appointment of Bassi would be “a travesty of the process”.
“At this particular moment when Bassi appears to have acquiesced to an open subversion of two of the estates of our nation, his choice would be very unfortunate. By his collusive inaction, journalists were attacked and the sanctity and respect for the judicial system and the courts was diminished,” Gandhi had reasoned.
Referring to the Delhi Police’s inaction against the lawyers who indulged in violence at the Patiala House court, Gandhi had said: “I always had good opinion about Bassi. Unfortunately, circumstances have changed my opinion about him. He is angling for a post-retirement job. If the government now makes him an Information Commissioner it would be a sad day for democracy, and people will believe that the denigration of the two estates of governance had the approval of the government.”
On his part, former Secretary to the Government of India, EAS Sarma, who has been associated with the promotion and implementation of the Right to Information Act, wrote to Sinha saying, “should not the government respect the spirit of Article 19 of the Constitution which has conferred on the citizens the “right to know” and make sure that the entire selection process for appointment of candidates to the CIC be made totally transparent?”
As for Bassi’s candidature, he said, “the professional background of each applicant and his or her commitment to transparency in governance should weigh heavily in short-listing the candidates.”
Sarma further added that a look at the website of the Delhi Police Commissioner will readily show the reluctance of that office to disclose the details of the pending investigation cases and the break-up with respect to the outcomes. “Considering the happenings in Delhi, especially in relation to the law and order situation during the last few days, should the selection committee consider the appointment of such a person to the CIC?” he asked, adding that if Bassi were to be selected, it would surely send a negative signal to all those who are public-spirited and are anxious that the tone of governance in the country should improve.
Bassi, who served the Delhi Police as commissioner for nearly three years, had quite an eventful stint. He was constantly in the cross hairs of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on various jurisdictional issues and the Aam Aadmi Party leader had even labelled him a ‘BJP agent’. To this Bassi had responded saying that he was appointed during Congress rule. On Friday, his response to news of him being dropped from the shortlist of information commissioners was “it does not bother me”.