The NDA government’s move to amend the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 in the coming winter session of Parliament has run into rough weather following differences between various government departments over whether government servants and their family members should declare their assets, and whether such information should be made public or not. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is learnt to have sided with the bureaucracy in challenging the contentious provision.
Under the law, public servants are required to declare their immovable property as well as movable assets like vehicles, cash in hand/bank, gold and other jewellery, investments in shares, bonds and mutual funds etc. They must also submit this information about their family members to the government.
Sources told The Sunday Express that differences on the issue came to the fore during a recent meeting held to finalise the proposed amendments to the Act. Since the differences remain unresolved, the matter is being referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a final decision. The Prime Minister is also in charge of the Ministry of Personnel, which is the administrative ministry for all affairs concerning the proposed anti-corruption ombudsman.
After various associations of civil servants, including the IAS and IPS, sent representations seeking amendment to the provision relating to declaration of assets, arguing that the security of their family members could be compromised if such details are made public, the government had earlier extended the deadline for filing the declarations till December 31.
While sources privy to the discussions said the DoPT is supporting the bureaucracy, some other departments are of the view that if the demand of the civil servants is accepted, elected political representatives could also raise similar demands.
During discussions within the government, three options were laid out but no final decision was taken. The options are:
* Details of only immovable assets of public servants should be made public. Details of the officer’s movable assets as well as the assets of his/ her spouse and children should be kept in a sealed cover, to be opened only during investigations/ official proceedings against the officer.
* All details of assets — movable and immovable — should be kept in a sealed cover.
* It should be mandatory for government officials to declare their assets, but not that of their family members.
The Law Ministry, it is learnt, has suggested that rather than amending the relevant provision of the Act to deal with the issue, suitable changes should be incorporated in the relevant rules to achieve the purpose.
However, a strong section within the government feels that any move to water down the provision could send a “wrong” signal about the intentions of the government, especially since it rode to power on a strong anti-corruption plank.
A petition filed by the wife of a government officer is also pending in the Delhi High Court. The petitioner, who is employed in an IT company, has challenged the constitutionality of the provision, contending it is violation of her fundamental rights.
“The Prime Minister will most likely take the final call on this issue. There is some merit in all the arguments and it will essentially be a political decision. But there is general consensus that any amendments will have to be introduced in the coming session,” said a source.
The source said it has been decided to amend the Act to allow the leader of the single largest opposition party in Lok Sabha to be part of the Lokpal selection panel committee. Another amendment will ensure that even if some members of the selection committee are not able to participate in the meetings, the panel would continue to function.