oppn parties Citizens' Right To Know Versus Politicians' Right To Privacy And The Test Of Proportionality

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Citizens' Right To Know Versus Politicians' Right To Privacy And The Test Of Proportionality

By Our Editorial Team
First publised on 2024-04-11 14:49:42

About the Author

Sunil Garodia The India Commentary view

Are voters entitled to know each and every financial and personal detail of politicians who stand for election? Earlier, there were no norms for disclosure. Later, after a tough fight, a law was put in place whereby those who submitted their candidature were to submit an affidavit of assets and court cases pending against them in order to ascertain their wealth and the extent to which they were accused in criminal cases. The affidavits were instrumental in allowing the public to know how much additional wealth the politician had accumulated after becoming a people's representative (when he or she filed the affidavit in the next election) and that in turn was expected to allow them to ascertain whether the person had made it by corrupt means as a people's representative. It was hoped that it would lead to more informed voting decisions on part of citizens. But very soon, other politicians and the media started digging deeper and laid bare the entire personal history of politicians, including things which were of no concern of the public.

The Supreme Court has now sought to put the brakes on such uninhibited intrusion on the privacy of politicians. In overturning the Gauhati HC judgment in the case of Arunachal's Independent MLA Karikho Kri (whose election to the Arunachal assembly in 2019 was declared invalid as he had 'forgotten' to mention he owned three vehicles in his asset affidavit), the Supreme Court has made some strong statements against the citizens' right to know balanced with the privacy of politicians. It said that citizens' right to know was "not absolute" and politicians' right to privacy meant they need not disclose "matters of no concern to voters or irrelevant to his candidature for public office."

What the Supreme Court said widened the scope of the matter but in the instant case, the apex court applied the proportionality test. The vehicles which Kri had 'forgotten' to declare were a scooty, a motorbike and a van. The court said that the asset affidavit could be treated defective if the non-disclosure was a sizeable percentage of the total assets declared. In Kri's case it was not and hence his election could not be invalidated. If a line is not drawn somewhere, elections will be invalidated for trivial reasons and that would be against democratic norms.