Top Indian bureaucrats will now have to inform the government whether they want people to know about their assets in a bid to improve transparency in governance.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the Department of Personnel and Training to ask every secretary whether information about their holdings can be disclosed under the Right To Information Act.
Each bureaucrat has to submit details about his or her assets to the government on a periodic basis. However, the information cannot be made public until the official authorises the declaration.
According to the law, only those contesting elections are required to submit details of their assets to the government at the time of filing nominations. Even election commissioners had refused to disclose their assets' details saying it is not mandatory under any law.
Some government functionaries, including a few municipal commissioners in Maharashtra and information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, have voluntarily declared their assets. They said it will promote transparency in government functioning.
Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, in an order said this week, said the property statements of individuals serving in government are part of government records and cannot be treated as held in confidence. As it is private information, prior approval of the officials, whose information is held, will have to be obtained before disclosing it, he said.
The CIC was hearing an appeal against the department by journalist Shyam Lal Yadav for not providing the information on assets of secretary-level officials of the government of India.
While setting aside the department's decision, the CIC said the department will have to issue notices to the secretary-level officials in the next five days on whether they have any reservation on disclosing their personal information. If the officials fail to respond to the notice within 10 days of receiving it, the information sought by Yadav will have to be provided.