New Delhi: In a highly-acclaimed move, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday asked ministers to declare their assets as also those of their spouses and dependents along with any business interests, as per the annual exercise.

The ministers have been asked to furnish the details by August 31 in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Ministers.

"I have been directed by the Prime Minister to apprise you of the declarations required to be made by a member of the Union Council of Ministers in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Ministers...," Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar has said in a June 2 letter to ministers.

"In this connection I am to inform you that in terms of the Code of Conduct details in respect of assets, liabilities business interests conduct and management of any other
business and employment of spouse and dependents under a foreign government or organisation are required to be disclosed by the Members of the Union Council of Ministers,"
he said.

He drew the attention of the ministers to the paragraphs 1(a), 2(a), 2(e) and 3.2 of the Code.

The paragraph 1(a) states -- "disclose to the Prime Minister, or the Chief Minister, as the case may be details of the assets and liabilities, and of business interests, of himself and of members of his family.

"The details to be disclosed shall consist of particulars of all immovable property and the total approximate value of (i) shares and debentures, (ii) cash holdings and (iii) jewellery. Such a Statement of assets and liabilities could be in respect of the financial year for which the income tax return has already been filed by the Minister".

Disclose interests of MPs in various companies: CIC

The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Tuesday while decising a petition said that a better watch over the pecuniary interests of Members of Parliament in various companies will help deal with legislative matters relating to such firms.

Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra, while deciding on a petition, said disclosure of such information is in "larger public interest".

The case relates to an RTI application filed by Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms seeking to know from the Rajya Sabha secretariat the details of "remunerative
directorship, regular remunerative activity, shareholding of controlling nature, paid consultancy and profession engagement" of the members of the House.

These details are submitted by the MPs under 'Register of Members' Interest' under Rule 293 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States.

Bairwal also sought to know the list of members who have not submitted the form and reasons for not doing so.

The Rajya Sabha refused to provide details citing a decision of its Ethics Committee which opined that the information was held in fiduciary capacity and should not be disclosed to public under section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act.

The secretariat said since the disclosure of information has no relationship with to any public activity or interest.

Rejecting the arguments, Mishra said, "The knowledge among the citizens about the pecuniary interest of MPs in various companies and other business establishments would help them to keep a better watch on their representatives when they would be dealing with policy and other legislative matter affecting the interests of such companies and business

According to the section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act cited by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, information held in fiduciary capacity can be withheld from disclosure unless it serves the
larger public interest.

The Commission said information sought by Bairwal would serve larger public interest hence it overrides the objections raised by Rajya Sabha in its denial.

"It is the standard practice that people in positions where they can make decisions or influence policies affecting the financial and other interests of companies should recuse
themselves from such a process, if they themselves have an interest in those specific companies or the class of enterprises, to avoid conflict of interest. This should equally applicable to the legislators," Mishra said.

Mishra said if the legislators have any stated interest in some companies or business houses, as directors or substantial shareholders, their participation in any legislative or decision-making activity affecting the interests of such companies and business houses would be keenly watched by the people.

"This kind of vigilance on the part of the informed citizenry will help the legislators to be more objective and fair in their functioning and will help in better laws being enacted and better policies made," he said.

Mishra said just like declaration of private assets by those contesting elections, the disclosure of pecuniary interests of MPs should not be construed as invasion of individual privacy and directed the information to be made public.