In a major step towards transparency in public life of politicians, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has made it clear that the wealth details of Union ministers, their spouses and children would be made public.
The Speaker’s statement has put an end to the controversy, which arose after the the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) denied to divulge the information under the Right to Information Act (RTI).
The information watchdog, the Central Information Commission (CIC), had left the matter to the Speaker while deciding the appeal of Delhi resident S.C. Aggarwal. He had approached the commission after the PMO had refused to provide him with the details.
Asked about his view on the matter, the Speaker said: “The Prime Minister’s Office was probably inspired by some other high institutions. The same yardstick would be applied to hon’ble ministers who are members of the Lok Sabha, as are applied to MPs.”
The Speaker said he would decide on the matter “as soon as it is put up before him.”
Chatterjee had allowed the Lok Sabha Secretariat to provide information on MPs assets details, soon after the RTI Act came into existence in October 2005, though the Parliament rules provide for this information to be kept confidential.
“The rules say that the information provided in a sealed cover to the presiding officer of each House is confidential and can be opened only by the presiding officer. However, in keeping with the spirit of the RTI Act, I asked my office to provide details sought by the public,” Chatterjee said.
The CIC, in its order, had made it clear that since the presiding officer of the respective House of Parliament of which the ministers are members holds their wealth details, “therefore the matter is referred to Somnath Chatterjee, the Lok Sabha Speaker.”
The commission pointed out that the information sought “was held in confidence, as is recognised by the Lok Sabha rules, and therefore required third party reference — that is the Speaker’s reference.”
About those ministers who are members of Rajya Sabha, the CIC ruled that the same yardstick as Lok Sabha would be applicable to them.