The Narendra Modi government on Sunday deferred the October 15 deadline for public servants to declare their movable and immovable property under the Lokpal law to April 15 next year.
This is the sixth, and the last, extension granted by the government since January 2014 when the law came into force.
“The last date for filing of revised returns for the year 2014 and the returns for the year 2015 by public servants... has now been further extended from October 15 to April 15, 2016,” said Jishnnu Barua, joint secretary, department of personnel and training.
The decision comes as a relief to millions of civil servants who have been reluctant to go public with their movable assets that will include not only the value of their household effects but also their bank balance and jewellery.
Officials argued that the Lokpal provision — making it mandatory for the government to go public with assets declared by officials — intruded their privacy and put their families at risk from criminals. The foreign ministry had also sought exemption for diplomats, claiming that this information would make it easier for foreign spy agencies to target them.
Last December, the government had agreed to remove the provision to make their assets public and moved a bill in Parliament last December. But the bill was referred to the standing committee on personnel that hasn’t submitted its report yet.
Since Parliament hasn’t cleared the controversial amendment, officials are required to submit their statement of assets. And the government has no option but to make it public. It is this eventuality that Sunday’s order seeks to avoid.
This will be the last time that the deadline can be extended by an executive decision. The legal provision to remove difficulties – which empowers the government to defer implementation of a legal provision enacted by Parliament – expires in January 2016, when the law completes two years.
It does not matter that the law, hurriedly enacted under pressure from the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, has not been really operationalised.
Rajya Sabha MP EM Sudarsana Natchiappan — who heads the parliamentary panel examining the amendments — told HT that the panel would submit its report by its final deadline, 15 November. Sources said the Natchiappan-led panel was keen to strike a balance between the privacy of officials and the need for transparency.