NEW DELHI: In a blow to transparency, the PMO has decided to block public access to the wealth declarations made by ministers. The details of assets and liabilities of the union council of ministers has been available online since 2010. However, the details are now password protected and can only be accessed by the authorized personnel.

In fact information on assets and liabilities of the present council of ministers was available till recently. According to the website, the information was last updated on February 11, 2015 when the user name and password protection might have been introduced.

National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) member Anjali Bhardwaj said, “We are convinced that the PM does not want to be transparent and give people information.” She said a bigger concern was that there would be no one to complain to. “The chief information commissioner happens to be the adjudicator for the PMO. In the absence of a CIC (the post has remained vacant since August 2014) we cannot even file a complaint against the government,” she added.

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RTI activist S C Agrawal—on whose RTI query the information was made public—described it as a “blow to transparency” adding that a series of missteps was working towards halting the progress made under the RTI Act. There are at present over 37,000 cases pending before the Commission. The huge backlog compounded by the lack of staff has crippled the Commission’s work.

The disclosures of union ministers’ assets and liabilities had marked a landmark step towards accountability and transparency in the government and came after a year of sarkari stonewalling on an RTI application filed by Agrawal with the CIC citing public interest. The chief information commissioner had ordered that the detailed list of assets and liabilities, their business interests and that of their family must be made public if the leaders of both houses give permission. Parliament was of the opinion that no permission was required for disclosure forcing the Union Cabinet this week to adopt a resolution that the assets would be made public.

Members of the House have to declare their assets and liabilities within 90 days of taking oath as MPs under Rule 3 of the Members of the Lok Sabha (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Rules, 2004).

The PMO dropped its stand against making public ministers’ assets and liabilities after the making of complete details filed by the elected representatives in 2010.