NEW DELHI: The striking difference in the attitudes of two pillars of democracy—legislature and judiciary—towards the applicability of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in their fields is becoming glaring by the day. Just after the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Chief Justice of India publicly aired their divergent views on application of RTI Act to their offices, the duo present an equally contrasting study in asking their respective colleagues to declare assets and liabilities and make it public.
A day after Chief Justice Of India K G Balakrishnan said the judges of SC and HCs have “voluntarily” (there is no rule to make it mandatory) declared the details of assets to him but that he will not make it public, it has come to the light that LS speaker Somnath Chatterjee has not only “officially enforced mandatory declaration” of the assets and liabilities of all the Lok Sabha MPs to his office secretariat but has even formally ordered the opening of the sealed envelopes containing those details as and when sought by anyone through the RTI Act.
The decision to enforce ‘mandatory’ filing of the details of assets and liabilities of the MPs to the office of the Speaker has come in addition to the fact that all of them have already declared it in affidavits to the Election Commission while filing nominations to contest the Lok Sabha polls. The Speaker’s order has roots in a rule framed by the Lok Sabha on the recommendations of the House ethics committee much before the RTI Act was passed.
In 2004, Mr Chatterjee issued an order asking all MPs to follow this rule in letter and spirit. There has been cent per cent adherence to the order for sending the details of MPs’ assets and liabilities in sealed covers to the secretariat. It is also mandatory for the MPs to update these details on an yearly basis as and when there is a change in its status.
When the RTI Act was subsequently enacted, many applications started reaching the Lok Sabha secretariat, seeking the latest details of Mps’ assets, creating an entirely new situation for the staff. The initial advise to the Speaker from the Lok Sabha secretariat was against letting public know the details. The Speaker then over-ruled this view and issued an order, asking the designated staff to open the sealed covers. The only condition was that the applicants should reach the Lok Sabha secretariat to personally see the declared assets.
The mounting demand for RTI’s application in SC has already led to a public debate when the CJI said the Act can’t be applied to his office, triggering a response from the Lok Sabha Speaker who said it should be applicable to all Constitutional offices, including his own. Mr Chatterjee further reasoned that the RTI Act was enacted to implement what has had already been enshrined in the Constitution and that ‘all organs of the Constitution’ should abide by that principle.
Re: To check MPs' assets, just send RTI to Speaker
Here is a suggestion for those really interested in this subject.
Just go to the Election Commission website. Asset affidavits of candidates filed at the time of nominations are available "online".
If you have a second time elected representative (elected for the second term), just compare the two asset affidavits filed during the two nominations.
Some of them can put the best "Investment Bankers" or "Portofolio Mangers" in this world, to shame. Sometimes I wish, I also had good investment advice like our MP's have, in order to increase my assets.