House Panel Spares Babus From Disclosing Assets Of Family
A parliamentary committee, entrusted by the Rajya Sabha to strengthen the Lokpal and Lokayukta law, has sought to go soft on bureaucrats, exempting them from disclosing the assets and liabilities of their spouses and children, saying that civil servants should “spend less time on non-productive activities and more time on productive activities.”
Deviating from the spirit of the anti-corruption watchdog body that envisaged that all public servants disclose assets owned by them and their spouses and children, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has agreed with the PMO-monitored Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) that public servants should make disclosure only to the “competent authority”.
However, the authority, which in this case is the DoPT, would forward a copy of the disclosure to the Lokpal “who shall keep these declarations in a fiduciary capacity,” which means that the details wouldn’t be disclosed or put in the public domain.
MPs’ Committee to Bureaucrats’ Rescue
- Unlike what the Lokpal 2014 Bill had
envisaged, a house panel says bureaucrats need not declare assets of their family
- The rider in the set of recommendations
by panel is that public servants should make disclosure only to the “competent
- Authority, which
in this case is the DoPT, would forward a copy of the disclosure to the Lokpal
- Additional relief
for public servants since the panel recommends that bureaucrats should not be
subjected to unnecessary clarification only on account of ‘suspicion’
- Declaring assets by a bureaucrat’s spouse or children may also raise privacy
issues, notes the panel
Personnel Department to Review
The competent authority and the Lokpal would “review the returns filed by the public servants, particularly in suspicious cases, including by using digital surveillance software to detect any disproportionate growth in assets and liabilities of a public servant beyond his known sources of income.”
But this should be done in a “professional manner so as not to give rise to a feeling that every government servant is suspect and under surveillance,” the committee led by E M Sudarsana Natchiappan said.
Additional Relief For Civil Servants
In another major relief, the panel has recommended that it should be ensured that government servants are “not subjected to unnecessary clarifications or queries” in case their self-disclosures are screened due to “suspicion”.
To allay the apprehension among public servants that existing service rules target them, the committee has proposed review of DoPT rules regarding the manner and form of declaration of assets and liabilities “as these rules reflect the colonial mindset of doubt and mistrust which the colonial masters had regarding their employees.”
They are at present “being used more to harass government servants than as a safeguard against corruption and often act as barriers against true and fair disclosure by government servants”, the committee said.
Need To Check Graft
The need for Lokpal or Lokayukta (in states) was long needed in view of rampant corruption in the corridors of power and it was seen that ministers and bureaucrats took recourse to corrupt means by fraudulent means.
Following a reference by Rajya Sabha Chairman M Hamid Ansari to examine the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 2014, to the department-related standing committee started looking into the Bill and submitted its report last week.
The committee solicited views and suggestions from various organisations, individuals and experts. The DoPT and other government agencies, including the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), also made their submissions on certain provisions of the Bill.
Independently Earned Income
In its 163-page report, the committee agrees with the DoPT’s view that family members of a public servant are “under no obligation to disclose to him or her, the assets acquired by them through their own income and it may, therefore, not be appropriate to even expect that all public servants would have knowledge of assets acquired by his or her family members through their own incomes.”
It may, therefore, not be feasible to hold the public servant accountable in case the information furnished by him regarding assets of his family members turns out to be factually incorrect and, therefore, any exercise of compelling a public servant to declare the assets of his or her family members independently acquired by them may turn out to be an exercise in futility, the DoPT said.
The committee added that when “more and more spouses of public servants are working and having their independent sources of income, compelling declaration of assets acquired by the spouses or children of a public servant from his or her own income may even be held to be in breach of their right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 or even violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.”
Some NGOs had, however, strongly objected to amendments to the Bill, demanding that the declaration of assets and liabilities of the public servant, his or her spouse and children made by the public servant “should be published in the website.”
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)