An RTI Application was filed, under the Right to Information Act, 2005 seeking information on the returns of income and tax payments furnished by members of parliament and legislative assemblies. Unfortunately, it appears that the information sought needs to be furnished by elected representatives only for contesting and not after winning elections, unless they contest in the next round of elections.
The single RTI application to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, after multiple inter-departmental transfers resulted in a mess, an “RTI Loop”, a bureaucratic tangle resulting in numerous departmental transfers and an escalating count of 219 applications. This unintended consequence turned a straightforward query into a convoluted process.
“The information sought by you in Query 1,Query 2 and Query 3 is personal in nature and can not be provided as per section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act 2005 which is reproduced as under Section 8(1)(j) information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has not relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”, this was the reply received after the end of multiple transfers of a Right To Information application filed, asking the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs regarding income and tax disclosures of elected representatives.
The following information was sought under the Right to Information Act.
1. Details of Income:
a. The total income declared by each elected MLA and MP for the fiscal year 2022-2023.
b. The sources of income declared by each elected MLA and MP for the fiscal year 2022-2023.
2. Details of Tax Payments:
a. The total amount of tax paid by each elected MLA and MP for the fiscal year 2022-2023.
b. The breakup of tax payments, including income tax, Goods and Services Tax (GST), or any other applicable taxes, for each elected MLA and MP for the fiscal year 2022-2023.
3. Any Disclosures or Declarations:
a. Copies of any declarations or disclosures made by MLAs and MPs regarding their income and tax payments for the fiscal year 2022-2023.
The Lok Sabha Secretariat replied as follows:
“MSA Branch deals with the salary and allowances of sitting MPs (Lok Sabha) as per `The Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 and Rules made Thereunder (as amended). The aforementioned Act/Rules are available on Lok Sabha website and can be accessed Through https://mpa.gov.in/sites/default/files/MSAACT_0.pdf The said act is administered by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.”
On the other hand, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat has given the reply as: “This Secretariat is only concerned With the Members of Rajya Sabha. Under Rule 293 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States, the Register of Members’ Interest (Pecuniary Interest) of approximately 200 Members is maintained by this Section which contains more than 800 pages. Compilation of such huge information would lead to diversion of office machinery in a disproportionate manner, and, therefore, as per provisions laid down under Sub-section 9 of Section 7 of the RTl Act cannot be provided. Hence, it is not possible to compile and furnish the information sought by the applicant.”
“However, the applicant may inspect the Register of Members’ Interest, if he so desires. The source of income declared by any Member of Rajya Sabha is not maintained by this Secretariat”, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat added.
Additionally, The applicant was also informed that as per Rajya Sabha Secretariat Right to Information (Regulation of Fee & Cost) Rules, 2005, for inspection of records, there is no fee for the first hour of inspection. Thereafter, a fee of Rs. 5/- per hour (or fraction thereof) will be charged.
Further, the Election Commission of India stated that the information sought is not available with the commission. However, the affidavits filed with regard to criminal cases, assets, liabilities, incomes/allowances, bio-data, citizenship and educational qualification etc. given by contesting candidates in respect of Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly Elections are available on the commission’s website with link: Candidate Affidavit and Links to Candidate Affidavits-Election Commission of India.
As per the Right to Information Act of 2005, it is essential to note that there exists no provision for the withdrawal or cancellation of a submitted RTI application after it has been filed with the respective public authority. This safeguard is intentionally instituted to uphold the interests of the RTI applicant. RTI Activists argue that introducing provisions for the withdrawal of RTI applications could potentially create a loophole, providing individuals with vested interests the chance to exert undue pressure on applicants. This protective measure ensures the integrity of the RTI process and guards against potential external influences.
In a democratic society, transparency and accountability are fundamental pillars that strengthen the trust between citizens and their elected representatives. One crucial aspect of transparency is the disclosure of assets by Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) and Members of Parliament (MPs) even after winning elections. This practice not only upholds the principles of openness and integrity but also serves as a vital tool for fostering public confidence in the democratic process.
In the light of the continuous democratic process, due disclosure of income is vital to build public trust and cultivate a habit of continued disclosure, so that people can make informed decisions as to who will represent them in the next term.
The following factors outline the need for continuous disclosure —
Requiring elected officials to disclose their assets post-election fosters a culture of accountability. It ensures that public servants remain answerable to the electorate throughout their tenure, creating a system where elected representatives are consistently mindful of their financial conduct.
Transparent disclosure of assets acts as a deterrent against corruption. By regularly updating their financial information, MLAs and MPs signal a commitment to ethical conduct, discouraging illicit practices such as bribery, embezzlement, or other forms of corruption.
Continued asset disclosure helps identify potential conflicts of interest. This information is crucial in preventing MLAs and MPs from engaging in activities that may compromise the public interest for personal gain. Such vigilance is essential for maintaining the ethical standards expected of elected representatives.
Access to up-to-date asset information enables citizens to evaluate whether their elected representatives are truly representative of their communities. Continued disclosure assists in preventing the entrenchment of political dynasties or the undue influence of wealthy individuals in the political arena.
Trust is the foundation of a robust democracy. By consistently disclosing their assets, elected officials demonstrate a commitment to transparency and honesty. This, in turn, contributes to building and maintaining public trust in the democratic process.
Privacy of the Members of the Legislative Assemblies and Parliaments do deserve respect. But to what extent, is the vital question where the politicians claim to be transparent in terms of their efforts and proportionate earnings.
In conclusion, the responses received through the RTI application underscore the challenges in obtaining comprehensive information on the income and tax disclosures of elected representatives. Despite these hurdles, it is evident that a fair and transparent taxation system not only promotes infrastructural and economic growth driven by the Government but also provides valuable data regarding our elected representatives. This data, when coupled with information from non-profit organizations like Myneta.info, contributes to an informed electorate, reinforcing the principles of transparency and accountability in our democratic system