The Central Information Commission feels that details of property belonging to government servants and even judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court are subject to the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act but some government departments, including the Income-Tax deparment, seem to think otherwise.
The Income-Tax department, the Regional Passport Office, Chennai and also the State Secretariat are reportedly opposed to disclosing the names of officials who had bought immovable properties in the last two years.
V Gopalakrishnan, an RTI activist, sought this information quoting Section 16(3) of the All India Service (Conduct) Rules, 1968, which stipulate that the officials should not acquire any immovable property except with the previous knowledge of the government and should intimate the government about their transactions if the value of the said property exceeded Rs 15,000.
Gopalakrishnan, Chennai zone secretary of Fifty Pillar India, an NGO fighting against corruption, wanted the details for the period from January 2006 to December 2008.
But in their separate replies, the authorities said they could not furnish the information sought as it included personal details of the officials concerned and also no public interest was involved in the queries. The I-T department said 137 officials bought immovable properties in the last two years but refused to reveal their names.
The Secretariat said the chief secretary to the government was the competent authority to grant permission to IAS officers for purchasing immovable properties. It added: "Analogous to income-tax returns, the property returns filed by IAS officers are considered personal in nature and disclosure of this information will cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. And hence these information are exempted as per section 8 (1)(j) of the RTI Act.''
The applicant has filed his first appeal with the heads of the respective departments. "Earlier, I obtained details from the Tamil Nadu Housing Board about the purchase of flats by government officials under government discretionary quota'. The information suggested that many officials could have misused the quota to buy the properties. To know the truth, I filed RTI applications with the three authorities and hence they cannot say no public interest is involved in my queries. I filed a similar application in the office of the Director-General of Police seeking property details of IPS officials,'' Gopalakrishnan said.