(Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, 36, was born in Wathoora village in the Budgam district and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial High School in 1993. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Dental Surgery from from the Karnatka University in 2000. He has a private dental practice in Chandoora and is a social activist dedicated to educating public on the Right To Information (RTI) legislation. He is the Convener of the J&K RTI Movement and associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Intitiative (CHRI) office in New Delhi.)
Make IAS, KAS officers’ assets public: CIC to Govt
Faheem Aslam (Greater Kashmir)
Srinagar: In a significant decision, the Chief Information Commissioner of Jammu and Kashmir GR Sufi has directed the state government to put the details assets of the Indian Administrative Service and Kashmir Administrative Service officers on website within 15 days.
Disposing off a complaint filed by Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat against the General Administration Department, the CIC ruled that the “commission holds that they [GAD] should hoist such immovable property details of officers which are owned and acquired by them out of their own sources of income on government website.”
However, the CIC said, the assets “which are owned by their family members or spouses out of their own sources and Stree Dhan need not to be hoisted on the website because IAS officers have not done the same.”
“The commission has already informed the First Appellate Authority of the GAD about this decision,” the CIC’s judgment in the case reads.
While some of the KAS officers had objected to the declaration of assets citing “security scenario in J&K”, the CIC set aside the argument saying “the commission is constrained to observe that there is no express prohibition in the Act in this regard. The worthy IAS officers are at times performing more important functions and responsibilities with regard to law and order and security problems and they are obviously in senior positions than KAS officers. However the Commission is also conscious of the fact that the IAS officers have hoisted only immovable property returns of All India and Central Services Rules. On the principle of equity, the same principle should be applied to the KAS officers.”
THIRD PARTY OPINION
The State’s Chief Information Commissioner had earlier come under sharp criticism of observers on seeking “third party opinion” on the issue. The CIC had observed that Section 11 of the J&K Right to Information Act of 2009 was involved in the issue. But some of the RTI activists clearly differed on the assertion, arguing that the matter could be resolved in ‘much simpler ways.’
Section 11 of the RTI Act envisages that where a Public Information Officer intends to disclose any information or record, or part thereof, on request made under the Act, which relates to or has been supplied by a third party and has been treated as confidential by that third party, the PIO shall within five days from the receipt of the request, give a written notice to such third party to make a submission in writing or orally regarding whether the information should be disclosed. “As such the submission of the third party shall be kept in view while taking a decision about the disclosure of information,” the Section mentions.
GAD had issued the notice in July, inviting objections from all J&K cadre IAS/KAS officers [third party in this case] on whether the information regarding their property statements should be disclosed to the appellant, Dr Muzaffar Bhat, or not.
An officer has argued before the GAD that “we are the field officers and due to the prevailing law and order situation our property at times becomes targets for attack. Sharing such information without any cogent reason or specific purpose is against the mandate of law and purpose of the Act. Once this information is shared, there is every apprehension that the properties of officers will get targeted due to law and order problems.”
Another officer has argued that “there have been good number of cases in the country where children of high profile private sector executives have been kidnapped for ransom. Even some private sector employees drawing huge salaries also expressed their reservations to media regarding disclosure of their income as it has security implications. The security situation in J&K continues to be fragile and majority of employees do not have the security cover especially to their families. So the sharing of information can become a big threat from criminals.”
The Chief Information Commissioner has however ruled that with regard to the first FAA contention that the supply of information would not serve larger public interest, the commission “is of the considered opinion that this contention is not correct.” “The very concept of public servant implies that the Government servant has to serve in and for the interest of public at large in a system that we have under the constitution of India and the constitution of the state. Hence if assets acquired and obtained by public servants out of their own funds, which flow from the government exchequer, an argument is rightly made that the public have interest to know the details of assets acquired through public funds,” the CIC ruled.
He says the concept has been widely elaborated in a Madras High Court judgment which reads: “It is now widely recognized that openness and accessibility by the people to information is a vital component of democracy.”
With regard to objections by IAS/KAS officers that details of assets falls in the ‘personal information’ category, the CIC has ruled that the Madras High Court judgment says “the information relating to assets declaration of IAS officers cannot be said to be an information which cannot be accessed by the a public authority. As those informations are either not more confidential or private informations.”
With regard to another limb of Bhat’s complaint that how many IAS/KAS officers have not submitted their annual property statements since last 10 years, the CIC has ruled that “it is surprising that even this information was denied by the PIO and FAS without any cogent and convincing reasons.”
“Such information also be hosted on website of GAD. And compliance to this judgment be made within 15 days of its issuance,” the CIC has ruled.