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Opening up

Making a bureaucrat’s assets public is a good step towards transparency.

Written by The Indian Express |
May 2, 2011 1:02:19 am

The government has taken an essential step towards accountability and transparency by deciding to make public the assets of those in the higher echelons of bureaucracy. All serving IAS officers,other Group A Central service officers and their dependents will have to disclose their assets and income-tax returns. Defaulters will face serious consequen- ces,and therein hopefully lies a pointer to the gravity with which the government is seized of the matter. Those who refuse to submit their details will be denied vigilance clearance,will not be considered for promotion and empanelment for senior posts in the government and their names will be proclaimed online.

Declaring one’s assets is an elementary act of transparency between the public servants and the public. While there have been arguments,especially in the context of the higher judiciary declaring their assets,that this bit of personal information has no bearing whatsoever on how one conducts in public office,putting the documents out there is considered one way of deterring potential acts of corruption. That is why declaration of assets by election candidates has gained such traction — though the format needs more regulation. Over a year ago judges of the Supreme Court too made public details of their wealth — first due to public pressure and then a judgment by the Delhi High Court. After the legislature and judiciary,now it is bureaucracy’s turn.

The Right to Information Act has indeed ensured a greater sense of transparency over the past few years,but here the public has to seek out much of the information which should have been open and accessible to them as a matter of course,without them having to take recourse even to the minimum act of filing and submitting application forms. This is not to discount the enormous impact that the RTI has had,but to point to new creative ways in which the government can subject itself to greater accountability. By simply putting up online details of procedures and policymaking,of services rendered and auctions made,etc,the government would be able to contain corruption,address the prevailing consternation about institutional opaqueness and make people feel they are indeed part of the system,not shut out of it. Sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

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