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Drive to lay bare assets of officials

New Delhi, July 27: Babus, get ready to bare all.

If a high-powered committee has its way, bureaucrats will have to take the lead from politicians and make their assets public.

Sources said the panel, set up to recommend measures for reforming the civil service, will push for a change in rules to end a convention that keeps officials’ disclosure of assets confidential.

Existing all-India service rules require bureaucrats to declare their assets every year to the government, but the over-secretive bureaucracy has always insisted that the declaration be treated as confidential.

However, with a judicial directive forcing politicians contesting elections to declare their assets, the bureaucracy will find it difficult to resist the commission’s suggestion to take the veil off their wealth files.

“Why not'” said a young IAS officer, who is not averse to the idea. “If MPs do not have any problem, there is no reason why other public servants cannot do likewise.”

If approved, the transparency rule would be applicable to members of the All India Services and Group A central service in the first instance.

The asset recommendation has assumed significance against the backdrop of a string of golden skeletons tumbling out of the closets of several high officials.

A raid in April this year threw up as much as Rs 1.7 crore in cash from the bank locker of an officer with the anti-adulteration cell in the petroleum ministry. The government has since decided to close down the cell.

The last time the CBI went on one of its occasional anti-corruption drives in June this year, disproportionate assets worth over Rs 7 crore were uncovered.

Headed by former Union Public Service Commission chairman P.C. Hota, the 11-member committee, appointed less than six months ago by the cabinet secretariat, is also learnt to be in favour of amending Article 311 that deals with penalising errant bureaucrats.

The panel appears to be in favour of simplifying the procedure for penalising and dismissing such officials to cut down on the time usually taken. One possibility, the sources suggested, could be to have a committee of senior government officials to summarily evaluate the charges against an accused.

The Hota committee report, expected to be formally submitted to cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi by the end of this month, is also thinking in terms of peer-group monitoring to inspire civil servants to stay clean.

The committee is learnt to be tinkering with the controversial experiment of the Uttar Pradesh IAS officers’ association several years ago.

The association had asked its members to identify and rank corrupt bureaucrats in the state. The names were never made public formally but they did not remain a secret either.

“It will be a very comprehensive report,” a member of the panel said, confident that unlike the other committee reports gathering dust, this one would get somewhere.

“There is acknowledgement in the government at all levels of the imperative of overhauling the existing civil service system,” he added.

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