'Bureaucrats can't seek protection under right to privacy claim'
With the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) ruling in a landmark order that bureaucrats do not have "right to privacy" on personal assets, babus may now find it difficult to stash away their ill-gotten wealth. CIC Wajahat Habibullah passed the judgement on a petition filed by Dr Kousthubha Upadhyaya against the denial of information by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
Dr Upadhyaya, a senior ayurveda medical officer in the Central Government Health Services, had sought details of personal assets of his superior (Shiva Basanth IAS, Joint Secretary) in the Health Ministry under the Right to Information Act from DoPT on October 27, 2006. He had sought the details of three years' property transactions, including the purchase of a posh flat in Gurgoan by the IAS officer.
But DoPT refused to provide the details, saying such information was "confidential" and "personal" in nature. "The immovable property returns (IPRs), like the annual confidential reports, have always been treated as confidential ... personal in nature. It was because of this only that there has never been any occasion where it was felt essential for bringing these documents in public domain," DoPT stated in its reply.
Trashing the DoPT stand , the CIC quoted a Supreme Court judgement which said, "When there is a competition between the right to privacy of an individual and the right to information to the citizens, the former right has to be subordinated to the latter as it serves larger public interest." In his judgement, the CIC upheld the arguments of Dr Upadhyaya for equating the status of politicians with civil servants in declaration of assets. In this context, the CIC quoted two SC judgments: Union of India vs Association for Democratic Reforms (May 2002) and People's Union of Civil Liberties vs Union of India (February 2003). The court was ruling on the requirement for filing nomination papers for elections and said that a candidate must also submit the properties held in the name of the spouse.
Dr Upadhyaya argued that when such rigorous norms have been fixed for those wanting to contest elections, and such people are in service for only the limited term of their office, the Government servants -- engaged in life-long service -- could not be exempt. The CIC upheld his contention.
Quoting another SC judgement (Roshan Lal vs Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan), the CIC observed that the same was applicable to all civil servants. "The annual property returns by Government employees are in public domain and there seems to be no reason why they should not be freely disclosed. This should also be considered as a step to contain corruption in Government offices since such disclosures may reveal instances where property disproportionate to known sources of income has been acquired," the CIC ruled.
Land mark judgment delivered by the Hon'ble CIC. Thanks for the members posting the same in the forum in order to see and read by other members.
However, I remember to have read in a similar circumstance Hon'ble I.C, Shri A.N Tiwary, rejected a 2nd appeal preferred by an RTI Applicant involving some customs officials and held that property and assets transactions of the officials cannot be made public taking shelter of Sec. 8- individual's privacy. Will it not create any controversy ? I admit that there is no straight jacket formula to be fitted in all cases and cases differ from each other and has to be consdered on merit basis. However, in these two cases, are there not similarites in a large scale to apply and take a uniform decision taking the matter in its right perspective ?
CIC is all for transperency unless the spot light finds him. Same with Supreme Court justices. Same with Central Government Ministers. The list goes on and on. Everyone wants all the others to have morals.
All the law makers consider themselves above and beyond law. At some time, they are bound to come together and amend the law. Unless we can act fast....