Political will, not law, can force babus declare their assets

Written by Rishi Raj | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 18 2011, 06:26am hrs
Nothing but a lack of will prevents the Centre from emulating Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who made it obligatory for state government officials to declare their assets for public knowledge.

In fact, the extant central law does allow for such revelation. The Central Information Commission ruled in 2009 that information on civil servants assets gathered and kept within the government can be put in public domain. So, if the Centre wants to toe Kumars line, it does not need to make a new law for that purpose.

The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, which lays down the code of conduct for Central government employees to maintain integrity in public services, provides for a provision for them to confide in the government about their financial assets. Rule 18 and 18-A specifically mandate all class-I and class-II civil servants employed by the Central government to file return of their assets and liabilities, upon appointment and at regular intervals as may be prescribed by the government. Information on all types of assets including movable, immovable and valuable property owned, acquired or inherited by these civil servants and their immediate family members need to be furnished.

Initially though such returns were supposed to be kept confidential, the Central Information Commission in November 2009 had ruled in favour of putting the information in public domain.

An official source said that if the Centre wants, it can seriously enforce this provision and even put all such disclosures by civil servants on a website. Asset declaration norm under the CCSC Rules is now being enforced rather laxly. Further, it does not propose any disciplinary action which can be taken by the government against officials who do not file such information.

Sources said that the government in fact should go ahead and make an accompanying rule to provide protection to the officers from false petitions challenging the authenticity of their declaration. Often such declaration when made public leads to frivolous petitions from vested interests which challenges the authenticity of such information by stating that several benami properties exist, said an official. The government should make an accompanying law that in case, upon inquiry such allegations are proved wrong, strong penal action would be taken against the petitioners. Such a move would make the enforcement of law much more effective.

The issue of bureaucrats declaring their assets has assumed importance with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar making it mandatory for the states officials to do so. Kumar has also made it mandatory for the Bihar cadre IAS officers on deputation to the Centre to declare their assets.

Kumar has decreed that salaries will be withheld of those officials who not declare their assets. The Bihar government has also decided to put all such information on a website. The rule also applies to the state governments ministers. The move has been widely appreciated by the civil society.