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Modi govt "concession" to India's top babus: They need not declare assets of spouses, dependent children

By Our Representative
With the Bill amending the Section 44 and the related rule-making provision in Section 59 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 (LL Act) passed in the Lok Sabha without any debate, India's top babudom should feel happy: Their spouses and dependent children would be exempted from making any public declaration of their assets.
Suggesting this, Vehkatesh Nayak, senior activist with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has said, provision requiring “only a public servant” to declare assets would lead to a situation where “the assets and liabilities declarations of IAS, IPS and IFoS officers which are currently in the public domain, may be withdrawn.”
“The current formulation of Section 44 regarding declaration of assets and liabilities covers not only the public servant but also his/her spouse and dependent children”, Nayak says, adding, the “amendments will restrict the declaration only to the assets and liabilities of the public servant. Assets and liabilities of the spouse and dependent children will be exempt.”
Similarly, he says, the proactive disclosure of the assets and liabilities declarations of Union Ministers under the Code of Conduct applicable would "go offline" as a result of the amendments to the LL Act.
The amendment talks of "every public servant shall make a declaration of his assets and liabilities in such form and manner as may be prescribed" on and from the date of "commencement of this Act", automatically cancelling the requirement to file annual return of assets and liabilities by July 31, even as omitting the requirement to publishing it online.
In the original Act, which came into effect in January 2014, every public servant was supposed to file annual returns of assets and returns "on or before the July 31 of every year", with the competent "competent authority" required to ensure that all such statements are published on its websites August 31 of that year..
“Currently”, he says, “The PMO website displays the assets and liabilities declarations for only 4 Cabinet Ministers and 2 Ministers of State for the year 2015-16. According to data available on the PMO website two Cabinet Ministers and a handful of Ministers of State are yet to cause their assets and liabilities statements disclosed for 2014-15.”
“The current formulation of Section 44 requires mandatory public disclosure of the assets and liabilities statements by public servants on the official websites of their ministries and departments”, Nayak says, adding, “The proposed amendments seek to do away with this proactive disclosure requirement. So people will not have access to the assets and liabilities statements of the public servant at all under the LL Act. This will only be a non-public declaration.”
While some activists in the media may talk of “benefits” by these amendments, Nayak says, “The only benefit that I can recognise is what is available to other public servants, namely, disclosure of assets and liabilities only for self and not for one's spouse and dependent children and of course the declarations will not be made public proactively.”
He underlines, “NGOs office bearers specified in the LL Act such as directors, secretaries, managers and other officers will still have to submit their assets and liability declarations to the concerned authorities. In the case of NGOs covered by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010 declarations by their office bearers will have to be submitted online to the Union Home Minister.”
Only, their spouses and children would be exempted, their declaration would not be put online, and the fixed date for filing it -- July 31 -- has been abrogated.
Nayak says, “Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia to have a law on assets disclosures for public servants during the 1970s”, says Nayak, adding, “The law then required such declarations to be kept confidential. However, amendments made in 1988 permitted people to seek copies of such declarations on payment of the prescribed fee, but restrictions were imposed on the use of such information for publication or for initiating legal action against the public servant.”

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