The lower house of Indian Parliament on Wednesday cleared amendments to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, pertaining to dilution of Section 44 of the Act dealing with disclosure of assets of spouses of public servants and those holding positions on the boards of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
In an unprecedented step, neither the copies of the amendments were circulated to the MPs, nor the Union cabinet had approved them ahead of introduction.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked special powers, vested to him to approve the bill without the Cabinet clearance.
The amendments will restrict the declaration of the assets and liabilities of the public servants only, sparing their spouse and dependent children. The amendments will also seek to do away with this proactive disclosure requirement.
The public servants includes the government officials, political functionaries that is the Prime Minister, ministers and also the members of Parliament.
Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh moved the amendments, which was not listed in the business list, assuring the members that a Standing Committee of Parliament will be looking into the amendments in any case.
The amendment were cleared without discussion amidst protests from the Opposition benches. On the urgency, the minister said since the date of filing such returns was July 30, it has become necessary to address the impasse.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and several members of Parliament, including nominated member Anu Agha and independent MP in the Rajya Sabha Rajeev Chandrashekhar had raised concerns over the income disclosure clause for trustees and board members of NGOs.
According to the minister civil servants, mostly lady officers had also raised the issue that the spouses were working elsewhere and they were not very clear whether they should be asked to make it public and declare the assets.
While the Congress and the Left parties agreed that there was an 'urgency' to pass the bill, they urged that the government should be stringent in imposing the provisions of the bill.
As per the rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, every public servant shall file declaration, information and annual returns pertaining to his assets and liabilities as well as for his spouse and dependent children on March 31 every year or on or before July 31 of that year.