Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Assets Disclosure by MLAs, MLCs and Government Servants

Since October, I have been trying to study the available provisions for transparency in Government and here is what I found. This is just a very basic research I did on how to track the assets of MLAs, Councillors and Government Servants, try to look at available options of improving the quality of people we have elected etc. Before you start reading this piece, I must admit that I did not have any idea on how to look at corruption in Government or Criminialisation of politics etc. I also knew nothing about the rules in place to curb these. This is a learning for me, and my intention in writing this is not only to blog my work but also that this could be a very rough guide to the status of the checks and balances available in the system. Of course, I cannot claim this to be exhaustive or in any way authoritative, but it can be a good starting point.


The first thing I tried to see was assets disclosure by all these people. Even before trying to find out about this, I knew that MLAs have to disclose their assets at the time of filing their nominations with the State Election Commission. These affidavits were available on the state election commission website. So I downloaded the affidavits of about 35 ministers that we have and went through them. One way to use these assets declaration data that I could think of right away was to compare it with previous elections' affidavits. That might give us an idea of the change in financial position if any, and whether the change is justifiable given the person's source of income. But when I tried to do that, I found that this was the only set available on the website. The rules that candidates have to file their assets returns and criminal backgrounds came into force only in 2003. So I have to wait till the next elections to know their assets details. But this led me to think whether there are any rules for MLAs to file their returns at any other place. Going through the Tamil Nadu Assembly website, I found that there indeed was such a rule. It can be seen at http://www.assembly.tn.gov.in/Documents/practice/pp4.htm#Disclosure. So I filed an RTI asking the status of compliance of MLAs with this rule. I asked details of just the present assembly (13th) and the previous assembly (12th). I thought an annual comparison of assets would be a good way to monitor the assets of MLAs because any sudden spike in assets could come under scrutiny. Of course, there is always the scope of their not declaring assets at all, handling which would be far more difficult. To my complete surprise I received a reply saying that not even a single MLA has complied with this requirement in this assembly and the previous one. But this letter stated the resolution to this effect was passed on 27th Aug 1969. The proceedings of that assembly session can be seen here. Page 12 of the pdf file shows that the then CM Mr.M.Karunanidhi (who is also the CM now) moved the motion for assets disclosure. This was passed with retrospective effect from the year 1966-1967. It has also been mentioned that some MLAs and ministers did indeed file their returns after this. But today the practice is probably long forgotten. So I filed an RTI to find out exactly when this procedure died out. I have asked for details of disclosure of all the 42 years starting from 1967 till this year. That should give us an idea of what happened. After this I am planning to try to push the MLAs to follow the procedure, by pressure through the media or by forcing them using the courts.

When looking at affidavits, I also saw that quite a few ministers had criminal cases against them. Considering that they are all ministers, no guesses needed on how the investigations would proceed. There are also corruption complaints against some ministers pending with the DVAC (Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption). With regard to investigations with Police Stations attempts to push can be made using Right to Information, but that will require a good understanding of the Police and Court procedures. I am trying to find a person who can help me with this. As for trying to find the progress of cases with the DVAC, RTI cannot help because DVAC has been recently exempted from the RTI act.

Then I looked at Assets disclosure of Corporation Councillors. According to the Madras City Municipal Corporation (Disclosure of Assets) Rules, 1973 Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) of the Chennai Corporation should disclose their assets details on March 31st of every year. Here again I have filed an RTI with the Chennai Corporation asking for compliance details. This was done on 23rd October 2008 and am awaiting a reply.

Government Servants
When trying to look at rules for Government Servants (THE TAMIL NADU GOVERNMENT SERVANTS' CONDUCT RULES, 1973), I saw that there were the seemingly strict rules for government servants where there have to get approval for any purchases made, and that they should not take gifts etc. Rules No. 7(3) clearly states that "Every Government servant shall submit a return of his assets and liabilities as on 31st December 1980 in Forms I to V in Schedule I appended to these rules on or before 31st March 1981 and thereafter at an interval of five years on or before the 31st day of March of the year immediately following the year to which the return relates". For this again, I filed an RTI application seeking the status and am awaiting a reply.

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