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Plea for info on public servants' assets rejected

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Plea for info on public servants' assets rejected



On June 22, the Central Information Commission (CIC) rejected an appeal from an Right To Information (RTI) activist in Mumbai that sought information on assets and liabilities of certain officers of the Customs and Central Excise departments. Information Commissioner A N Tiwari rejected the appeal on the ground that it would violate the privacy of an individual.


Rajesh Darak of Whistleblowers India had sought information on the assets and liabilities submitted by officers to the Customs department annually. However, it was denied by the Central Public Information officer and the appellate authority at Mumbai. Subsequently, Darak had appealed against the orders in the CIC.


"Without this information, the citizen would never know if assets and liabilities of certain government officers are beyond their known source of income," said Darak. Interestingly, there are conflicting views among the State Information Commissions (SIC) as some of the states allow their citizens to access information related to assets and liabilities of government officers.


RTI Activist Pramod Patil from Mumbai said, "This information is in public interest and hence should be made public. In Maharashtra, the information is available with the Establishment department, although I have not come across any case of citizens either being given information," said Patil.


Vikram Simha, an RTI activist from Bangalore, says that floodgates have opened ever since the SIC allowed disclosure of assets of government servants in 2006 and in a parallel development the SIC also allowed an appeal seeking information on assets of government officers. "We are in the process of inspecting assets files of 6,500 employees of the Commercial Tax department. So far, we have inspected 90 files and come across discrepancies like several of the queries in the forms are unanswered," said Simha.


Lamenting the decision of the CIC, Arvind Kejriwal, an RTI activist from the Delhi, said "I would rate this as a very regressive order. The fact that public servants are indulging in corruption merits public interest. Commissioner Tiwari has rejected the appeal as his own assets and liability would have to be made public."


"The issue here is whether this information could be given to Parliament or the Assembly. If it cannot be denied to Parliament, then it cannot be denied to the citizens," said Bhaskar Prabhu, a Mumbai-based RTI activist.


"As per the RTI Act, the citizen is the king. If information regarding assets are not given, then the citizens would not be empowered," he added.


However, there are those, like noted activist Shailesh Gandhi of Mumbai, who do not believe in this view. "There is a conflict between an individual's privacy and general need. I do think some privacy is required. Whether an individual's private matters should be made public, is a debatable issue," said Gandhi.

Jugal Rathi from Pune said: "Assets and liabilities of an individual is private information and the constitution protects the privacy of the individual. As per the RTI Act, if the public interest exceeds the privacy of individual, exceptions are made and information is provided under Section 8 of the Act. It cannot be a general rule; it has to be decided case to case."


Plea for info on public servants' assets rejected - Yahoo! India News

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Satish Gupta

The basic question is whether citizens of India have a right of privacy that includes the right to keep their assets and liability hidden from their neighbours.


Government servants or not, if you think your assets and liability should be public knowledge, then I think courts should allow disclosure of assets and liabilities of all officials. The state of corruption is so high in India that it may be justified to deny this privacy to all. However some would argue that loss of this privacy is a too high a price to pay, to fight corruption.


I think it is question of values of our society. Do we value privacy enough so that the fight against corruption takes a second place?


It would be unfair to single out government workers. I think the same standard should apply to all.

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assests of public servants should remain private until there is overriding evidence of disproportionate wealth; it should not be provided just for the asking; information seekers on the wealth of others should first gather some material to raise a reasonable suspicion of disproportionate wealth. and then the 'public interest' clause can be applied to press for disclosure.

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