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The Gujarat High Court Friday ordered public information officers (PIO) to issue notice and consider the objections of all concerned before passing an order on a Right To Information (RTI) disclosure of the annual property returns (APRs) of public servants.

The court order came as it heard the petition of senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Arvind Agrawal seeking to set aside the chief information commissioner’s order directing the state to furnish such details.

Agrawal contended that such details were ‘personal’ and could not be given under RTI.

Justice Akil Kureshi, after considering the rival submissions in the case, sent back the matter to the PIO and ordered to follow the procedure in accordance with law. The court said that the Chief Information Commissioner R.N.Das’s order stands clarified by this direction so as to clear the ambiguity in it.

However, Justice Kureshi told the counsels: ‘Once you are in public domain then you should not be shy of revealing your own properties. This court is not hearing the case on merits as its been remanded back to PIO, otherwise I would have decided the issue right here.’

An order by Das, an ex-secretary in the central government, directed the state government to furnish APRs of IAS, IPS and IFS officers following an appeal by journalist Kapil Dave, seeking to know the richest officials in Gujarat and whether their property was disproportionate to their known source of income.

The state general administration and forest and environment departments had denied giving the information of APRs saying that it is personal information of officers and cannot be given under the RTI act, while the home department furnished APRs of only those Indian Police Service (IPS) officers who consented to share it.

The commission noted in the order: ‘APRs may contain personal information, but it cannot be said that its disclosure has no relationship to any public interest or that its disclosure would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.

Citing the judgement by Supreme Court judge P.V. Reddy in the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties v. Union of India, where the court had held that in case of conflict between public interest and private interest to maintain privacy, the public interest would retain primacy, the commission held that the disclosure of APRs of public servant should be considered as a step to contain corruption as its disclosure may reveal instances where property has been acquired which may be disproportionate to the known sources of income of public servants.

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