The Right to Information Act was enacted to ensure transparency and accountability in public life. The State Information Commission plays a crucial role, as a watch dog to oversee and ensure the proper implementation of the Act.

Sadly over the last 17 months the manner in which Chief Minister Manohar Parikar has gone about trying to hand pick his Information Commissioners it has only been mired by repeated controversies. After the Pandurang Nadkarni and Pradeep Padwal fiasco we are now encountered with the Sandesh Prabhudesai saga.

The Right to Information Act mandates that the State Information Commissioner shall be a person “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”.

The Goa Government on 4th May issued an advertisement calling for applications/ recommendations for post of Chief Information Commissioner and only one post of State Information Commissioner. The deadline to submit the applications was 25th May.

On 24th May, my friend Dr Oscar Rebello submitted a letter recommending the name of Sandesh Prabhudesai for the post of State Information Commissioner. Knowing Dr.Oscar Rebello’s command over English, a bare diagnosis of that now controversial letter recommending Sandesh Prabhudesai’s name indicates that the same was surely not drafted by him. So did Dr Oscar Rebello merely sign on the dotted line? 

The cryptic bio data of Sandesh Prabhudesai which Dr Oscar Rebello claims he has himself complied has been injected with  loose, vague and non-specific statements beginning with non-committal phrases such as: Actively worked with in;  Involved in; Associated with;    Participated in; Associated in;   Played Active role in;

Interestingly the biodata does not mention any dates, and neither encloses any certificates or other supporting documents. It does not state as to how Sandesh Prabhudesai has the required ‘eminence in public life’. More importantly the bio data is curiously mute on Sandesh Prabhudesai’s educational qualifications.

Though after his selection Sandesh Prabhudesai has officially not said a word, he has been privately saying that the advertisement did not require the educational qualification to be indicated.

I hope that in his quest to grab the post, Sandesh Prabhudesai has at least read the advertisement properly. It specifically requires the full details of your bio data. There can never be a doubt whatsoever that one’s educational qualification is the foundation and a very integral part of the biodata.  Not to suggest that Sandesh Prabhudesai does not have a proficient educational qualification but the only concern is that it has mysteriously not been incorporated in the biodata.

In this whole episode however, the most intriguing symptom, is that if he was so keen on the post and felt that he was well qualified for it why did Sandesh Prabhudesai himself not apply. Last year even some retired High Court Judges had the humility and sent in their applications with their bio data for the same post. 

Any recommendation letter unsigned by the applicant himself is a document which holds no responsibility of truth or accountability. If tomorrow, one or more of the claims made in such a recommendation are challenged or found to be untrue, the applicant can merrily wash off his hands by stating he never made such a claim. Who, then, would be responsible for the falsehood? ….The person who recommended…. Dr. Oscar Rebello ??.

We have never heard of any application for a post, pursuant to an advertisement being made by a recommendation and not by the candidate himself. A mere recommendation by itself is necessarily invalid. The applicant for any post can certainly request respected members of society to recommend him but such recommendations can only accompany his signed application.

Sandesh Prabhudesai is no doubt at his best in organizing television programmes. I have enjoyed being part of so many over the years. But the job of State Information Commissioner is something much more beyond and serious. You have to be writing judgments after adjudicating on a very evolving law, the Right to Information act.  Any challenge against an order passed by the State Information Commissioner lies directly to the High Court.

If Manohar Parrikar finds himself under so much of pressure to find Sandesh Prabhudesai a job, the Chief Minister could accommodate him as his Press Information or Public Relations Officer. I am sure Sandesh Prabhudesai would excel in such a post.

I am sure Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has by now realized his error in creating an extra post of State Information Commissioner to accommodate Sandesh Prabhudesai. I hope in his current bid to cover up the illegalities, he at least seeks the much needed legal advice of the Law department. The appointment of the State Information Commissioner is done by the Governor, who I am sure like Dr Oscar Rebello may not just sign on the dotted line but will apply his independent mind especially in such a vital appointment.

The scales of law and justice clearly weigh against appointing an extra Information Commissioner given that only one post is notified and only one post was advertised. The manner in which Sandesh Prabhudesai’s name was recommended and later heavily lobbied for is also a matter of great concern. Solely merit and no extraneous considerations should always be the beacon in selection to any post. Otherwise the selected person will never have an independent mind. And when there is lobbying for a post, even by recommendations like this, for such a quasi-judicial post, should itself have been a disqualification.

If Sandesh Prabhudesai becomes the State Information Commissioner he would have to embark on his never ending voyage of finding his required wide knowledge and experience of law. Something that is very vital for the post and what he desperately lacks.

If he feels that his mentors and friends would be writing or aiding him write those judgments Sandesh Prabhudesai is hoping for the impossible. As Information Commissioner he may end up being the victim of the very Right to Information Act. If the doctor’s prescription works, the State Information Commission may inch towards a state of deep coma which even an antibiotic may not be able to resuscitate.

But Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is known to go all out thrashing the law to accommodate his family and friends in style. The appointment letter of Kurupati Dwarkanath Row as Chairman of the Goa Public Service Commission came to him on 4th March this year on his birthday.  Will Sandesh Prabhudesai be able to extract the Oscar award on 15th August which happens to be his birthday? The drama is unfolding. We shall soon know.

– Aires Rodrigues

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