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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Right to Information? Now babus seek to cover up

NEW DELHI: After judges, it is the babus’ turn to take a call on disclosing their assets under the Right to Information Act. A confidential memo in TOI’s possession shows that senior, secretary-level bureaucrats in the government of India plan to meet on November 3 to discuss assets disclosure public employees. 

The meeting has been convened by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), a ministry that hasn’t supported the spirit of transparency embodied in the RTI Act. Government sources say the ministries and departments whose opinion has been sought have been encouraged to come up with a negative view on assets declaration. Points such as ‘‘intimidation of civil servants by busybodies’’, ‘‘mocking media analyses’’ could be over-emphasized by bureaucrats at the meeting in order to make a case for non-disclosure, the sources claim. 

DoPT’s attempt to canvas opinion stems from a directive issued in May by the Central Information Commission (CIC). The CIC was hearing an appeal by one P P Rajeev of Kerala against the Cochin Port Trust’s decision to reveal the assets of public servants working for it, under the RTI Act. 

The CIC declared it to be ‘‘critical issue’’ and asked the cabinet secretary to consult all stakeholders and report back. 

The danger that babus may block assets disclosure is thought to be apparent from the tone of the 23-page note. 

‘‘The comparison between the political class, MPs, MLAs and those contesting elections, on the one hand and civil servants on the other, is misconceived,” it said. But to be fair to the DoPT, its memo takes a neutral stance, simply listing the pros and cons of disclosing assets even as it concludes that ‘‘no further amendment to the civil service conduct rules seems necessary.’’

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