The Lokpal law’s transparency initiative is turning out to be a nightmare for the government and employees alike.
Nearly 15 million pages of information — assets and liabilities — will be generated over the next fortnight or so, if government officials are able to stick to the 15 September deadline for filing their returns.
The Lokpal law requires every employee — irrespective of where he or she stands in babudom’s pecking order — to give a complete list of assets and liabilities of their immediate family.
An extended deadline for submitting the declaration ends in a fortnight. From next year, the assets/liabilities declaration will have to be submitted before 31 July every year.
Unlike property returns that middle and senior officials were required to file earlier, the new five-page forms require every employee to list out every asset owned by them, down to the last gram of silver, their investment portfolio and cash in hand.
It turns out the department of personnel & training — which had the mandate to specify the form — decided to adopt the form that the election commission requires candidates aspiring to contest parliamentary or assembly elections to fill.
The only relaxation is that babus can skip mentioning assets cheaper than four months of their basic pay. “Politicians hire chartered accountants to fill such a form. How do we do it?” asked one director-rank official.
Another complained that this was an invasion of the privacy of the officials without any commensurate gain. The Lokpal law mandates that the assets details have to be placed in public domain.
An official who has handled anti-corruption related issues in the past said he had doubts if anyone would have the time, energy or mandate to scrutinise the assets spread across 15 million pages.
But government officials need to be careful when they fill the form.
They could be in big trouble if they skip mentioning any asset detected at a later stage.
The Lokpal law says assets not mentioned in the declaration shall — unless otherwise proved — “be presumed to belong to the public servant and shall be presumed to be assets acquired by corrupt means”.