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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

MPs refuse to release details of wealth under RTI

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 12, 2013
First Published: 19:35 IST(12/4/2013) | Last Updated: 01:45 IST(13/4/2013)

Transparency in public functioning has received a setback with top-most functionaries - Members of Parliament (MPs) - refusing to voluntarily disclose their wealth under the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

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Both the houses refused to part with the information on assets and liabilities of MPs citing ruling of the Ethics Committees of their respective houses.

"The Committee on Ethics did not favour posting the asset details of Rajya Sabha members on its website," the Rajya Sabha secretariat said in the RTI reply to Subhash Aggarwal.

Aggarwal had asked about the steps taken by the Parliament to put asset details of the MPs on website and action taken on MPs for hiding information in their wealth declaration.

The MPs are required to submit information about their family's movable and immovable property and liabilities to any financial institution or to the government within 90 days of taking oath to their respective houses.

The apparent reason for the MPs refusal to part with their wealth statement, which is available to people when they file nominations, appears to be fear of disqualification. 

Providing wrong information at the time of filing nomination papers does not disqualify the person from contesting polls.

"The law does not provide for disqualification on this ground. A case can be registered against the person who has provided wrong information," said MK Mendaratta, legal advisor with the Election Commission.

But, if wrong information is given to Parliament and there is complaint, the chairpersons of the respective houses have powers to initiate action, including disqualification, against the member after an inquiry.

"There is an in-house mechanism to taking action," said Subhash C Kashyap, former secretary general of Lok Sabha.

Putting their wealth statement in public domain can result in complaints from political opponents, many MPs fear.

The RTI reply also shows that three members of Lok Sabha including Madhu Koda accused in corruption and money laundering cases, including disproportionate assets, Harsh Vardhan and Putul Kumari have not disclosed their asset and liabilities statements so far.

Koda was exempted from providing information by Speaker Meira Kumar on a request made by him, the RTI reply revealed.

In Rajya Sabha, five MPs - Ajay Sancheti, Darshan Singh Yadav, Munquad Ali, Narendra Budania and Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu - have not provided this information, the reply says.

The two houses have, however, failed to take action against them as provided under rules and have been sending reminders to them to submit their wealth statements.

The MPs were first to come under public disclosure mechanism through wealth statement at time of filing nomination.

And, its positive impact resulted in the governments putting annual asset and liability statement of bureaucrats and ministers in public domain.

The judiciary also followed suit. When MPs were asked to follow similar practice, they refused. Their wealth can now be known only at time of elections, if they contest.

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