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Assets made public will tell only half the story

The government intends to complete putting the property returns of all government officers in the public domain by August or September this year. Aloke Tikku reports.

india Updated: May 16, 2011 00:28 IST
Aloke Tikku

The government intends to complete putting the property returns of all government officers in the public domain by August or September this year.

But, the property assets will tell only half the story.

The civil service has decided against putting its bank balance and investments in the public domain. Supreme Court judges and politicians contesting elections have to make a full disclosure of their assets, both movable and immovable. Bureaucrats, however, submit the information under two different rules and formats.

Submission of property returns is an annual affair. Civil servants have to submit the list of their immovable assets to the government every January.

However, no such annual declaration has to be made in case of their movable assets.

So far, they had to inform the government about any expenditure above a stipulated limit.

In case of All India Service officers, this limit was Rs 15,000. Last week, this limit was linked to their salary and fixed at two months' basic pay of the officer concerned.

The new rule makes it mandatory for the officer to inform the government about any transaction beyond this limit.

This information, however, will not be covered under the transparency move to put assets in public domain.

But there are several officers - IAS, IPS and from other services - who took the first bold step. Senior police officer Jasvir Singh from Uttar Pradesh - who faces the risk of a penalty for moving Supreme Court to force the government to act on black money - had put his assets on a website two years ago.

"It is my belief that the public should know about the movable and immovable assets possessed by officers and changes therein, on an annual basis, so that they can draw their own conclusions about the probity or otherwise of All India Service officers," Singh wrote to cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar in November 2009. Singh also junked the existing format for declaration of property returns, saying it was "inadequate to ensure full transparency and accountability of bureaucrats".

A government official explained that the move to put information in the public domain wasn't an outcome of a change of heart in the government but a two-year-old directive from the Central Information Commission.

"Someone took the initiative to implement the directive but could carry along the colleague to go beyond the directive," he said.

For a civil service that has used every trick in the trade to block recommendations of committees - even panels comprising retired bureaucrats, pushing to make property returns public - the decision to make property returns public was "undoubtedly a big step", said a senior government official.