New Delhi: A senior diplomat on Wednesday alleged gender bias in the External Affairs Ministry, claiming that had it not been so, there was no reason why she should have been ignored for the post of Foreign Secretary.
Senior diplomat Veena Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer, said she has moved the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), seeking access to files pertaining to appointment of Shivshankar Menon as Foreign Secretary under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
She alleged that as many as 16 officers were superseded in choosing Menon as the Foreign Secretary.
"I have made a final application to CIC Wajahat Habibullah, wanting to know on what grounds Menon, a 1972 batch officer, was appointed as Foreign Secretary, ignoring officers who were senior to him, including me."
"There are some objective, well-established criteria for the selection of Foreign Secretary. I deserve to know why I don't fit the bill," PTI quoted Sikri as saying.
Sikri, who had been posted as India's High Commissioner in Dhaka, returned to Delhi in November last year in protest against Menon's appointment.
Asked about her future plans, Sikri said she was awaiting a reply from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
She said she has sought information such as the rules and principles followed by the government in the selection of Foreign Secretary, what was the process for the final selection of Menon for the post, the panels of officers drawn up for the position and the reasons why certain officers were superseded in the appointment.
"I have sought access to files that have to do with the appointment," she said.
CIC differs with PMO, favours revealing info on file notings
New Delhi, April 24: Disapproving PMO`s contention that file notings on Foreign Secretary`s appointment cannot be made public, the Central Information Commission Tuesday observed that such information should be revealed if anyone asked for it.
The PMO`s argument that disclosure of files on the appointment of Foreign Secretary would lead to an "unwarranted invasion of privacy" of IFS officers was questioned by CIC Wajahat Habibullah who said "the entire issue is in public domain".
The CIC`s observations came on an RTI appeal of senior IFS officer Veena Sikri who sought file notings on appointment of Foreign Secretary Shiv Shanker Menon.
Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer, had approached the CIC after Menon, a year junior to her, was appointed to the top slot superceding 16 officers including her.
Sikri had sought information on rules followed by the Government in the selection of Foreign Secretary and the process which led to Menon`s appointment.
"Why only the appellant, if any one else asks for this information (on the appointment), it should be disclosed," observed a CIC bench comprising Habibullah and Information Commissioner O P Kejariwal.
The hearing, which lasted for 90 minutes, was attended by officials of the Prime Minister`s Office, Cabinet Secretariat, External Affairs ministry and the Department of Personnel and Training. The CIC reserved its order.
The CIC view came after the PMO in its explanation submitted that disclosure of information related to the appointment of Menon would lead to "unwarranted invasion to the privacy of individual officers (diplomats) screened for the post of Foreign Secretary".
The Cabinet Secretariat in its representation also sought exemption from disclosure of the file details on grounds that Cabinet papers were immune under the RTI Act and not to be put in public domain.
The appellant, assisted by her counsel, refuted the Cabinet Secretariat`s plea over exemption of such Cabinet papers saying that disclosure of such details was in public interest.
Over a question raised by the CIC as to who held the file details over Menon`s appointment, the External Affairs Ministry, DoPT and Cabinet Secretariat were found wanting in their reply.
Sikri, who returned in November last year to Delhi from Dhaka where she was posted as India`s High Commissioner, in protest against Menon`s appointment, had filed her appeal with CIC on March nine.
"There are some objective, well-established criteria for selection of Foreign Secretary. I deserve to know why I don`t fit the bill," she had said, while expressing grievance over Menon`s appointment.
Sikri gets some information, still away from getting details
Senior diplomat Veena Sikri will get to look at some papers relating to the foreign secretary’s appointment but it is still uncertain how far she will get.
The Central Information Commission on Monday(07 May 2007) ordered the Cabinet Secretariat to produce all documents concerning foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon’s appointment for the commission’s perusal next week to figure out if it was possible to disclose information without unwarranted invasion into privacy of other candidates concerned.
In their 16-page decision, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioner OP Kejariwal directed that documents from the "initiation to the culmination of the process of appointment of Foreign Secretary Menon" should be submitted to it in a sealed cover on May 17.
The government had appointed Menon last year, superseding claims of 16 officers senior to him in the diplomatic pecking order. Sikri was one of them.
The commission also ordered the External Affairs Ministry to show Sikri the file held by it under which Annual Confidential Records of diplomats considered for the post were sent to the Cabinet Secretariat.
Sikri, however, is unlikely to get too much information out of this file in the near future since the ministry would bar information relating to other officers on grounds of invasion of privacy.
In March, the commission had ordered that the promotion file of Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Vijender Jain, should be made public. RTI applicant, Subhash Agrawal, still hasn’t seen the files; the government rushed to the Delhi High Court and returned with an order staying the transparency directive.
RTI activist Vishaish Uppal, who had asked the government for files relating to appointments of the five Central Information Commission members including Habibullah in November 2005, is still waiting for the documents. On Monday, she told HT that she did get some papers but none that enabled her to understand the reasons for the decision.
"The government has still held back documents including minutes of a crucial meeting in the selection process. I have moved a complaint against the department of personnel at the commission," she said.
The cabinet Secretariat is on a collision course with the Central Information Commission (CIC). It had decided to file a writ petition in the High Court against the Commission’s decision asking it to produce all documents from “initiation to culmination” in appointing Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary.
The move follows a secretary rank officer Veena Sikri using the Right to Information Act (RTI) to seek answers to Menon’s appointment. Sikri had also alleged gender bias in the Indian Foreign Service.
The Hindustan Times broke the story on March 14, which led the CIC to take note of Sikri’s application filed last year. Before that, Sikri’s RTI application kept moving at different government departments.
Following the HT story, the CIC issued notices to officers in Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Secretariat, Department of Personnel and Training and External Affairs Ministry. It directed them to appear on April 24 for a hearing on Sikri’s appeal.
In a crisply-worded letter, the Cabinet Secretariat has informed the CIC that it will file a writ petition in the High Court on grounds that the secretariat is not in a position to produce all relevant documents concerning Menon’s appointment. Sikri told HT: “By moving court, the Cabinet Secretariat is challenging the very core of the RTI Act. At the same time it is setting an unhealthy precedent. Under Section 18 of the Act, no public authority can deny or withhold any records from the CIC. The Cabinet Secretariat’s stand is an attempt to render the RTI meaningless and toothless.
It is ironic that the RTI Act is passed by the present government with the Cabinet Secretariat being the core authority for its approval. By moving court against it, it is challenging its own creation,” Sikri said. Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer, returned from Bangladesh in November last year, protesting for being superceded for the Foreign Secretary’s post.
Earlier, in her letter to PM Manmohan Singh, Sikri had alleged gender bias stating: “I can only regretfully conclude that I have been discriminated against on grounds of being a woman. My suppression contradicts the stated objectives of the Government of India on promoting gender equality and enhancing the representation of women in the highest level of policy making”.
HC stays CIC order seeking info on Menon appointment</ARTTITLE>
NEW DELHI: In yet another instance of an important Central Information Commission ruling being rendered ineffective, Delhi High Court on Tuesday stayed the CIC order directing the Union government to place before the Commission all relevant documents pertaining to the appointment of Shiv Shankar Menon as foreign secretary.
Staying the operation of the order passed on a government's petition, Justice B D Ahmed said, "The order of the CIC on May 7 shall be kept in abeyance till further orders. Interestingly, Tuesday's stay reveals a pattern where a panicky government — on being forced by the CIC to disclose crucial information — has rushed to high court challenging the CIC order and seeking a stay against it.
Earlier, the government had sought, and secured a stay against the CIC direction calling for the files relating to the appointment of Justice Vijender Jain as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana HC. On Monday, acting on a petition filed by former Passport Office chief Gloria Kumar, HC had stayed a CIC order penalising Kumar for delay in a passport related case.
Tuesday saw ASG Gopal Subramaniam, appearing for the Centre, contend that the information sought by CIC to be disclosed to senior IFS officer Veena Sikri doesn't come within the ambit of RTI Act.
Press Trust of India
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 (New Delhi)
The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has directed the government to place before it records pertaining to the appointment of Shivshankar Menon as Foreign Secretary.
The direction of CAT came on an application by senior IFS officer Veena Sikri, who wanted the government to make public the process of selection to the key post.
Sikri, a 1971 batch IFS officer, along with 16 other officers were superseded when government approved the name of Menon, a year junior to them.
The tribunal has sought replies from PMO, Cabinet Secretariat, External Affairs Ministry and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and has asked them to bring all relevant records before it.
Questioning Menon's appointment, Sikri in her application had said that while his appointment was announced in PMO's website on August 31 last year, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) had approved of the same only on September four.
Sikri, who returned in November last year to Delhi from Dhaka where she was posted as India's High Commissioner, in protest against Menon's appointment, had earlier filed an RTI application with Central Information Commission (CIC) seeking government records on Menon's appointment.
The Cabinet Secretariat that was directed by CIC to disclose details on a file on Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) relevant to Menon's appointment stands challenged before the Delhi High Court.