Kolkata, September 20 Top bureaucrats of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Government have been sent running for cover by a simple query put up in a right to information (RTI) application.

How did the Government appoint three retired chief secretaries to posts not permitted by Article 319 of the Constitution?

The chief minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly are members of the panel that cleared the appointments.

On May 16, one Amitabha Chowdhury of a non-governmental organisation filed an RTI with this question: How did the Government appoint Rathin Sengupta, N Krishnamurthy and Sourin Roy to the Human Rights Commission after they had retired from the Public Service Commission (PSC)?

Sengupta, Krishnamurthy and Roy were successive chief secretaries when Jyoti Basu was the chief minister. Each had been appointed chairman of the PSC after retirement, and then as salaried member of the Human Rights Commission. Amitabha Chowdhury has also asked for the file notings.

The state public information officer (SPIO) of the Home (political) department has failed to come up with a reply in the mandatory 30 days. Top bureaucrats of Home and Law departments are also desperately looking for an answer.

Article 319, “on prohibition as to the holding of offices by members of Commission on ceasing to be such members”, says that the chairman of a state PSC shall be eligible for appointment as chairman or member of the Union PSC, “but not for any other employment either under the Government of India or under the Government of a State”.

When Ananda Ghosh, the SPIO and joint secretary of the Home (political) department under the chief minister received the application, he realised the implications and rushed to Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy, and suggested they get a legal opinion from the Law department.

The law department sat on the matter.When the RTI petitioner did not get a reply, he complained to state Chief Information Commissioner (SCIO) Arun Bhattacharya in the first week of September.

On the September 12, Arun Bhattacharya wrote to the SPIO seeking a reply within 15 days.

On Thursday, Ananda Ghosh, by now promoted to deputy secretary and holding the post of appellate authority, met the home secretary again and impressed upon him the need for a speedy reply. SCIO Bhattacharya has told the petitioner that he will arrange for an open hearing if he does not get a reply within 15 days.

The file notings are also important because appointments to the rights body are made by a panel whose members are the Chief Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Speaker, among others.

Ananda Ghosh is in a fix. “It is very difficult for me to get information on a matter handled by a panel whose members are such important people,” Ghosh told The Indian Express.

“The question is complicated and the Government will have to think carefully before it replies,” Ghosh said. Ghosh admitted any further delay will be unlawful,” he said.

The petitioner, Chowdhury, says he knows the Government has done something unconstitutional. “But I still want to see the file notings,” he said. “Whoever gave the order for their appointment will be implicated.”

Krishnamurthy, when contacted in Mumbai, said: “The law has many interpretations. I cannot comment whether it was unconstitutional or not,” he said. “It is best to take legal advice.”

Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim, one of the members of the appointing panel, told The Indian Express that he will not be able to comment off-hand.

What Constitution? Govt puts retired bureaucrats in top posts