Himanshi Dhawan,TNN | Aug 12, 2014

Gujarat govt refuses to reveal assets of CM, ministers
Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel.
NEW DELHI: The Gujarat government has turned down an RTI query seeking details of the wealth of the chief minister and the council of ministers claiming it is not in the “larger public interest”.

The move is in sharp contrast to that of the Union government which has made facts related to assets and liabilities of its council of ministers public since 2011 and Supreme Court judges who have voluntarily disclosed their wealth.

Mumbaikar Anil Galgali had filed a RTI query seeking information about the assets and liabilities of the CM and the council of ministers over the past 5 years. He also sought to know about action taken by the CM on those who had failed to file their wealth declaration.

Terming the refusal as “ridiculous”, Galgali filed an appeal with appellate authority and deputy secretary (cabinet) in the state’s general administration department, BJ Brahmabhatt.

Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former chief information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah described the state government’s stance as “retrograde and foolish”.

Public declaration of ministers’ wealth has seen patchy implementation in other states. While Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have made some of the information public, many others have not.

In reply to the query, Gujarat government’s under secretary (cabinet) & public information officer PV Patel said, “The information sought cannot be furnished since information available to a person in this fiduciary relationship and the information sought is personal information, the disclosure of which has no relationship to public authority …”

He further quoted section 8(1)(e) and section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act for denial of information saying the disclosure would cause unwanted invasion of privacy of the individual and was not in larger public interest.

Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel.

Patel also quoted a 2012 Supreme Court order in the Girish Deshpande vs AB Lute case where the court held that income tax returns fall under “personal information”.

The order further states, “The details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are ‘personal information’ which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the central public information officer or the state public information officer or the appellate authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”
Former information commissioner in the CIC Shailesh Gandhi said, “The order is bad in law. However the SC has given such a judgment that I believe does not follow the RTI Act, leaving public information officers with little choice but to deny such applications.”

Habibullah had taken the decision that assets of the council of ministers and even Supreme Court judges should be made public. “How can an elected government claim right to privacy? If the Union ministers and even the Chief Justice of India can make disclosures about their wealth how can public servant of a state claim right to privacy? The public has a right to know,” he said.

All elected representatives have to disclose their wealth to the Election Commission (EC). A 2009 CIC order ruled that the information was in public interest and should be made available to as many people as possible. However, CIC does not have jurisdiction over states.