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The Madras high court has held that assets details of IAS officers furnished to the government in a sealed cover can be made available under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Inspection of asset details of the officer concerned can be allowed as well, it further held.

An appeal by V Madhav said that on February 12, 2009, he applied to the public information officer (PIO) of the public department seeking permission to inspect the five latest statements of assets’ disclosure submitted by 10 IAS officers, including the chief secretary. It was rejected by the PIO and the appellate authority on the grounds that the information was exempt under Section 8(1) (j) of the RTI Act.

The information commission contended that the assets declaration related details were personal information, the disclosure of which would have no relationship to any public activity or interest or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of the individual. The commission also said the information furnished in a sealed cover is “held” by the government to ensure confidentiality.

While the government pleader said the information about the IAS officers in question was made available on the website as per a circular of the Union ministry of personnel , public grievances and pension dated April 4, 2011, V Krishna Ananth, counsel for the petitioner, said the information on a website may not be authentic as it was liable for hacking. The information also had no evidentiary value , he said.

In light of the direction from the central government on disclosure of assets by IAS officers, counsel contended there could not be any impediment for the Commission to allow the appellant to access information sought for in his application. In its order, the bench of justices D Murugesan and K K Sasidharan said, “We find force in the above submission.”

Passing orders, the bench held that the disclosure of such information under the provisions of the act would ensure a culture of openness. A sound administrative system leading to efficiency and effectiveness could be achieved. It would further result in involving a better form of government, the bench said, adding that the relief sought for in the writ appeal be considered.

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