The government won’t put out assets of bureaucrats in public domain but it also won’t stand in the way of the information being given out under the Right to Information Act.
A committee of secretaries tasked to formulate the government’s approach on right to information applications seeking figures on annual property returns of officers has figured there was no policy role for the government.
Government rules require officers to file annual returns listing their moveable and immovable properties.
But these records are promptly stashed away because the government – department of personnel for Indian Administrative Service, home ministry for Indian Police Service and environment ministry for Indian Forest Service officers – does not have the manpower to analyse the information.
The Central Information Commission had in June this year asked the government to present a considered formulation in terms of the system and technicality of assets disclosures and desirability of such disclosure in public interest.
The commission’s directions came on an RTI request seeking information on assets of a Cochin Port Trust employee.
Cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar promptly set up a committee of senior bureaucrats to study the issue.
But officials associated with the exercise, however, suggested they were surprised at the panel’s initiative.
“This was a simple and shut case, if someone had to take a decision. Someone makes a request under the law. The CIC was expected to deliver its decision as per the provisions of the act. Full stop,” a senior official told Hindustan Times.
“We felt that the provisions under the (RTI) law were sufficient. There is no need for any decision at our end.”
Officials conversant with the information law concede that the act did not seem to bar providing such information.
“It is certainly a third-party information so the public information officer would have to seek comments from the officer concerned, evaluate the response of the officer and the stated reasons for withholding the information and take a call,” an official at the ministry of home affairs said.
This means that the decision on revealing information about property returns would be taken on a case-to-case basis, depending on the arguments presented for – or against – making the returns public.