JK seeks opinion from KAS/IAS officers on declaration of assets
CIC Ruling Draws Mixed Opinion; RTI Activists Say Govt Dallying Issue
Srinagar, July 5: In a step which has sparked off a debate, the Jammu and Kashmir Government has invited opinion from its Kashmir Administrative Service and the Indian Administrative Service officers on declaration of their assets.
While the Chief Information Commissioner has observed that Section 11 of the J&K Right to Information Act of 2009 was involved in the issue, some of the RTI activists clearly differ on the assertion, arguing that the matter could be resolved in ‘much simpler ways.’
As per the notice of the General Administration Department (GAD) to the IAS and KAS officers, Section 11 of the RTI Act envisages that where a Public Information Officer intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof, on request made under the Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the PIO shall within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party to make a submission in writing or orally regarding whether the information should be disclosed. “As such the submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about the disclosure of information,” the Section mentions.
The General Administration Department has issued the notice, inviting objections from all the IAS/KAS officers of the state on whether the information regarding their property statements should be disclosed to the appellant, Dr Muzaffar Bhat, or not. “The objections, if any, in writing or orally should reach the office within 10 days from the issuance of this notice, failing which it shall be presumed that the officers have no objection in the event a decision regarding disclosure of their property statements to the appellant is taken by the 1st Appellate Authority,” the GAD notice reads.
The notice has been issued in response to a CIC ruling on Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat’s complaint on the issue of seeking details of the annual property statements of the KAS/IAS officers. Earlier the GAD Public Information Officer had informed Bhat that the information cannot be provided as the same is exempted under Section 8(f) and (I) of the RTI Act. Following this, Bhat filed an appeal before the 1st Appellate Authority, who after examining the case upheld the PIO decision.
Bhat later filed 2nd Appeal in the State Information Commission, where the CIC sought involvement of the third party—something which has drawn flak from a number of RTI Activists.
“In the first place, all the IAS officers have already declared their assets. Even the assets of IAS officers from Jammu and Kashmir have been put on the website of the Department of Personnel and Trainings at the Government of India,” said a RTI activist. “This information was disclosed by the officers as a consequence of circular issued by the DoPT, asking them to make sure that they disclose their assets. So when the IAS officers’ assets have already gone public, what is the fun of inviting opinion from them? The same rule could have applied for the KAS officers by issuing a simple order.”
The CIC is also being criticized for “unnecessarily complicating the issue” by his ruling. “This information has been disclosed by many states. So it is not confidential in strict sense. So the CIC would have easily directed the GAD to disclose the information rather than complicating the issue by seeking the third party opinion,” the RTI activist said. “What if the officers say they have objections to disclosure of this information? Does that mean the information will not be put in public domain? If the GAD had to seek public opinion on the issue first or if it was confidential, how did it provide the details of IAS officers to the DoPT, which put it on its website?”
In response to the RTI application, the GAD had earlier cited that this information cannot be provided as the same is expected under section 8 (f) and (i) of the Right to Information Act, 2009.
“Section 8 (i) of the RTI Act, 2009, inter alia provides that the information which relates to the personal information, disclosure of which would have no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual cannot be disclosed unless the Public Information Officer or the appellate authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information,” the GAD order, issued on February 10, 2011, reads. “The information being sought by the appellant about the property statements of IAS/KAS officers of the J&K State being confidential, the disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individuals, besides, the supply of the information to the appellant shall not serve larger public interest and has no relationship to any public activity.”
In his arguments, Bhat however mentioned that section 8(f) of the J&K RTI Act 2009 says that the information which would endanger the life or physical safety of a person cannot be provided. “But how can mere providing of information about the annual property statements or assets of IAS or KAS officers be a threat to their life and property?” he questions. “Moreover, section 8 (i) relates to personal information and which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. But an IAS or KAS officer is a public servant and people who are the tax payers have full right to know about the assets of the government officers as the tax payers money is being paid to government officers, including IAS and KAS officers, in the form of their monthly salary.”
According to RTI activists, it is a prickly issue. “While many citizens would like IAS, IPS and state services officers to make their assets public the officers themselves are resisting it. Two points must be noted here. First according to the Supreme Court decision in two cases of 2002 and 2003 (ADR v Union of India and PUCL v Union of India) all candidates at elections to state legislatures and Parliament are required to declare their assets and liabilities. Candidates contesting elections to the office of the President or Vice-President of India must also declare their assets before the elections. All these affidavits are displayed publicly by the Election Commission of India so that people may know what kind of candidates they are required to choose from,” reiterated Venkatesh Nayak, Coordinator at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
Elaborating, he said: “Several states have made this requirement compulsory for Panchayat and municipality elections. Given this transparency obligation for public servants who are elected by the people, the resistance to similar disclosure from the career bureaucrats becomes less and less justifiable. If assets disclosure is an eligibility condition for people to fight elections there is not enough good reason to treat career bureaucrats by another yard stick.”
Venkatesh believes that the assets-related information is personal information indeed. “But does a public servant have the same degree of protection for such information as a private citizen? The Delhi High Court seems to think differently. In the two celebrated cases relating to assets of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts delivered in 2009 and 2010, the Delhi High Court ruled that the degree of protection for assets-related information of public servants is less than that which is available for private citizens. Under the Civil Service Conduct Rules public servants have to mandatorily declare their assets and liabilities every year. However these declarations are treated as confidential disclosures and are not subject to public scrutiny,” he told Greater Kashmir.
He said: “Corruption is endemic in Indian society. It manifests itself more in people’s dealings with the bureaucracy than anywhere else. Therefore people have a right to know if a bureaucrat is leading a life of integrity as is expected of him/her in the Service Rules. If not there must be a way of holding the corrupt accountable. Making public disclosure of the assets of bureaucrats is the first step in this direction.”
Lastupdate on : Tue, 5 Jul 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 5 Jul 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Jul 2011 00:00:00 IST
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