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File sought on appointment of Menon as foreign secretary


New Delhi : In a partial victory to superseded Indian Foreign Service officer Veena Sikri, the Central Information Commission (CIC) Monday directed the Cabinet Secretariat to submit for its inspection all the files relating to the appointment of Shivshankar Menon as foreign secretary.

It also directed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to allow Sikri to inspect a particular file under which the Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) were sent to the Cabinet Secretariat.

The commission, which is adjudicating Sikri's petition for disclosure of file notings regarding the appointment, asked the Cabinet Secretariat to send the files on May 17 in a sealed cover.

In a 16-page order passed by Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Information Commissioner O.P. Kejriwal, the commission asked the Cabinet Secretariat "to produce all relevant documents from the initiation to the culmination of the process of appointment of Foreign Secretary Menon".

The commission sought the file "to enable it to decide whether it is possible to disclose the information without causing any unwarranted invasion of the privacy of other" IFS officers.

Sikri, a 1971-batch IFS officer, had filed an appeal with the CIC in March alleging that Menon, a 1972 batch officer, was appointed for the post superseding other officers senior to him.

She had also sought information on rules followed by the government in selection of foreign secretary and the process that led to Menon's appointment ignoring senior officers.

The government had maintained that such disclosure would lead to "unwarranted invasion into the privacy of individual IFS officers screened for the post of Foreign Secretary".

Dismissing the objection by the external affairs ministry in showing the files related to appointment of Menon, the CIC said that, "the matter is clearly of public interest".

It said: "Sikri has sought information and access to files in order to determine what considerations weighed with the authorities concerned that led them to set aside government's fundamental principle of seniority-cum-merit for Menon's appointment as Foreign Secretary.

"As there are prima facie reasons to believe that extraneous considerations may have influenced the decision, this is definitely a matter of public interest."

Sikri had sought information on various counts relating to the appointment, including those on files pertaining to the rules, principles and rationale governing the selection and appointment of foreign secretaries.

She had also sought all the files pertaining to the process and final selection of Menon as Foreign Secretary.

Sikri had also asked the government to part with the information on "the unprecedented manner and timing of the announcement of his appointment by the Prime Minister's Office on Aug 31, 2006, well before the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet on Sept 4, 2006."

She had also asked for "all the files, through which panels were made and which contain minutes of meetings of various committees, officials or ministers, which discussed this matter and which contain all correspondence on this subject".

Sikri also sought "all files in which it was noted how Menon was found more suitable and how others were found unsuitable or less suitable than him".