Indian Politicians under RTI scaner

MUMBAI: After politicians and judges of Supreme Court, now the assets of babus have been prised open to public scrutiny. In a landmark order, the Central Information Commission has said that disclosure of information such as assets of a public servant, routinely collected by the public authority, should be made available to the public under the Right to Information Act.

Passing the order in a case involving an officer with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi , information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi noted that such disclosure could not be construed as an invasion on the privacy of an individual and therefore, it should be made public under the Act.

With the ruling that disclosure of assets by a babu is no longer a matter just between him and his superiors, officers have been put on par with politicians as well as judges of Supreme Court who recently, bowing to pressure, agreed to let people peek into their material possessions.

The case came up for hearing with CIC after an RTI applicant’s query asking for details of assets and liabilities of the deputy health officer of MCD was rejected by both the PIO and the appellate authority.

UP resident Rajbir Singh had asked for details of immovable property declared by Ashok Rawat, deputy health officer with MCD. He had also asked for details of assets which the officer had purchased for more than Rs 10,000 during his service with date of disclosure made to the department.

But both the PIO and first appellate authority rejected the query under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. Information can be exempted under this section if it relates to personal information and the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.

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When the case came up for hearing, the CIC said that to qualify for this exemption, the information must be of a personal nature. “Various public authorities in performing their functions routinely ask for `personal’ information from citizens, and this is clearly a public activity. When a person applies for a job, or gives information about himself to a public authority as an employee, or asks for a permission, licence or authorization, all these are public activities. The information sought in this case by the appellant has certainly been obtained in the pursuit of a public activity,” the order said.

The CIC said there will only be a few exceptions to this rule, possibly relating to information obtained by a public authority by using extraordinary powers such as through a raid or phone-tapping. “Any other exceptions would have to be specifically justified,” the CIC order said.

The commission also quoted the Supreme Court order which had ruled that even people who aspire to be public servants by getting elected have to declare their property details. “If people who aspire to be public servants must declare their property details, it is only logical that the details of assets of those who are public servants should be be disclosed. Hence, the exemption under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be applied in this case,” Gandhi said.

City-based RTI activists welcomed the order. “This will usher in greater transparency and we hope citizens will use this as an opportunity to expose corruption in the system,” said Bhaskar Prabhu, convener of Mahiti Adhikar Manch.

Sources said the order was prompted by the recognition that declarations of assets by officers was not serving much purpose since the superiors expected to vet the disclosures for unusual increases were not discharging their brief because of peer affinity. CIC reckons that putting the matter in public domain will help, and act as a deterrent.

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