In a hint that millions of public servants may not have to go public with their assets and liabilities, the head of a parliamentary panel examining amendments to the Lokpal law made it clear that the panel was likely to ask the government to strike a balance between the privacy of public officials and the rights of citizens.
EM Sudarsana Natchiappan, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on personnel and law, told HT that the panel intended to study in-depth the provisions in the law that requires officials to go public with every asset owned by them or their spouse.
In face of protests from government officials, the Narendra Modi-led government has moved an amendment that seeks to abort the plan and go back to the original rule that only made public land and houses owned by senior officials should be made public.
But the government’s proposal has faced stiff opposition from transparency activists who oppose the move to dilute these provisions of the Lokpal law.
“Both sides have their rights,” Natchiappan said, asserting that the panel wanted to “strike a balance” between the right of the public to know and the privacy of public servants.
Apart from government officials, he said, the panel had also been speaking with employees of public sector undertakings who would be covered by this rule as well.
It is, however, the diplomatic corps that has been particularly uncomfortable by the move.
Way back in 2011 when discussions on the proposal started, the foreign ministry surveyed the regulations in about 80 countries and pointed that no other country in the world placed assets and liabilities of its diplomats in public domain.
It isn’t that the government hadn’t proposed safeguards. The documents were to be placed in read-only formats and the Internet Protocol address of each computer assessing the details was to be recorded. But South Block pointed that interested parties could easily note down the details or photograph them.
In April last year, then foreign secretary Sujatha Singh followed it up with another letter, pointing that the disclosure of full financial information would make diplomats posted abroad “vulnerable to exploitation” by foreign intelligence agencies, facilitate talent spotting and profile officers to compromise their integrity at a later stage.