Officers raise voice against putting property returns in the public domain

Lalit Shastri

north blockAs the extended deadline is round the corner, pressure has started mounting on officers and public servants, who are yet to file their revised property returns under the Lokpal Act. The voice of dissent is getting sharper among a section of civil servants who are opposed to placing the officers’ property returns in public domain.

When asked to share their views on the mandatory requirement of filing their property returns and the official practice of putting the details in the public domain through government websites, a cross-section of officers were unanimous in their view. They told newsroom24x7 that they should have no objection when it comes filing or placing their returns before the government or their respective departments. Nothing should deter or prevent them from doing this but the real problem arises when the details of their immovable property and movable assets are placed in the public domain.  A senior bureaucrat said that placing their property returns on websites has its own pitfall. He elaborated this point by stating: “this could become a huge security risk for a bureaucrat and members of his family if they have inherited wealth and happen to be rich or super-rich due to family legacy. He drew attention to the prevailing security environment both within and outside the country and said that even school going children from such families would face round-the-clock threat as they would be under the scanner of the terrorists and those who resort to criminal acts like kidnapping and extortion.

By end-December 2014, the Government of India department of Personnel and Training wrote to all State chief Secretaries drawing attention to the extended deadline for filing returns. The letter said: “The time limit for filing revised property returns by public servants has been extended from Dec 31 to April 30, 2015 “The last date for filing revised property returns by those who have filed property returns under the existing rules stands extended up to April 30, 2015. The prime minister has further directed that all preparatory steps be put in place for this purpose by Jan 31, 2015.”

The Establishment Officer and Additional Secretary Department of Personnel B.P. Sharma on July 25, 2014 had issued another letter to all Chief Secretaries of States and Union Territories with copies marked to Secretaries of all the Departments and Ministries of Government of India stating: “In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 59 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the Government of India has notified the rules (on July 14) to provide for furnishing of information and annual return containing declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants as on 31st day of March every year, to the competent authority, on or before the 31st day of July of that year under section 44 of the said Act.”

The July 25 letter also categorically stated that the public servants who have filed declarations, information and annual returns of property under the provisions of the rules applicable to such public servants “shall file the revised declarations, information or as the case may be, annual returns as on the 1st day of August, 2014, to the competent authority on or before the 15th day of September 2014.”

Barely two days before this, on July 23, another letter had been issued to all ministries and government of India departments by the department of Personnel and Training pointing towards the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act. 2013 with regard to the submission of declaration of assets and liabilities by the “public servants” for each year and placing the same in public domain on the websites of the Ministries and Departments. It also specified that the definition of public servant covers all Central Government servants (Groups A. B and C) while underlining that all Central Govenment servants are reqired to file the declaration.  The latter also underlined that “this is an important difference from the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1964.”

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