India’s transparency watchdog the Central Information Commission (CIC) wants President Pratibha Devisingh Patil to take a call on whether she wants to declare her assets and that of her family members.
Pushing her to declare assets, Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had voluntarily declared assets of entire cabinet and put it on the website for public viewing. The Union ministers are required to declare assets on annual basis.
Apart from him, members of other Constitutional bodies such as the Election Commission and the Supreme Court and statutory bodies such as the CIC have already declared their assets and put in public domain.
“In view of this, the President may set a good example in transparency which others could follow,” Gandhi said, while admitting the CIC does not have powers under the RTI Act to ask the President to declare assets. “The Commission cannot pass any direction in this regard, as it does not come within the Commission’s powers as mandated under the RTI Act”.
The order was on an RTI application seeking details of assets of the President and her family which the President’s Secretariat Public Information Officer had rightfully denied.
“It is for the President to take a decision. The PIO’s reply was therefore correct,” Gandhi said.
THE EMREGENCY DAYS
Deciding on another issue in the same RTI application regarding documents related declaring of emergency by the then President Farkhruddin Ali Ahmed, Gandhi was more outright and asked the President’s Secretariat to provide the information.
The Public Information Officer had denied information citing Article 74 (2) of the Constitution. The article debars providing exchange of information between the council of ministers and the President.
Terming emergency as India’s biggest challenge to democracy, the commissioner said the citizens had a right to know the reasons behind imposing emergency while asking the public information officer to provide the information sought by July 10 except advice from Gandhi to Ahmed.
On June 1, assets of IAS, IPS and IFS were put on a govt site.
In May, 3 election commissioners placed their assets report on the EC’s website.
In April, the assets of five CICs were put on the govt site.
In May, 2009 PM Manmohan Singh made it mandatory for all Cabinet ministers to declare their assets on annual basis.
In 2009, the Supreme Court judges placed their assets in public domain.