| A BJP worker stands in front of a poster featuring Vajpayee and Advani in the party headquarters in New Delhi on Monday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, March 1: Wondering aloud why the zeal in hardselling “feel-good” is not shown in exposing politicians who do not clear bills, Delhi High Court today ordered the Election Commission to give “full publicity” to the affidavits of MPs who have run up dues on civic amenities.
The court also directed utilities and the New Delhi civic body to treat all citizens as equals and disconnect phones as well as water facilities of the defaulting MPs.
Altogether 656 sitting and former MPs of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha owe Rs 11.18 crore to the state-owned MTNL, while 669 MPs of both Houses are to pay Rs 6.32 crore to the NDMC towards water and electricity bills.
Asserting that “an informed voter is the foundation of democracy”, the court asked the Election Commission to seek affidavits from candidates, including MPs, contesting the Lok Sabha polls about outstanding bills for telephones, electricity, water, accommodation and travel and publicise them.
“The Election Commission shall take effective steps to publicise at least in two local dailies the information furnished by candidates with regard to government dues to be recovered from them,” a division bench of chief justice B.C. Patel and Justice B.D. Ahmed said in response to a PIL. The court asked MTNL and NDMC to take all appropriate steps, including disconnection of telephone and electricity supply, to recover the dues.
It took exception to MTNL counsel Dinesh Agnani’s suggestion that political parties be directed to exert pressure on their candidates to clear the dues. “You (MTNL) don’t disconnect their telephones. How do you expect the political parties to do your job'” asked the bench.
An MP is allowed to avail of 1.50 lakh units of telephone calls, 50,000 units of electricity and 4,000 kilolitre water free of cost every year. However, they have to pay if the limits are crossed.
The court rejected poll panel counsel S.K. Mendiratta’s plea that the direction to publish information regarding dues owed by candidates to government departments would entail a lot of expenditure on advertisements. “When so much can be spent on feel-good, why can’t it be spent on informing the voters'” asked the court.
The Election Commission had proposed in court that information on arrears be put out on the website, given to media, NGOs and rival candidates. “But the court felt that would leave things to chance and the discretion of various agencies,” a poll panel official said, adding that the commission will now abide by the court order. “The main aim is to let people know about the outstanding dues of their representatives. They can decide whether or not to vote for the candidate,” he added.
However, the court clarified that candidates would not be required to obtain “no dues” certificates from the departments concerned.
Veteran Congress leader from Bengal A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury tops the dues list for MPs, according to documents supplied by MTNL and NDMC to the high court. Over Rs 41 lakh in telephone dues and Rs 30 lakh in power bills have been listed against his name. Chowdhury has challenged the bills, saying he had overpaid the dues.
Others on the list include BJP leader Jai Narain Prasad Nishad (Rs 12.18 lakh) and former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar (Rs 7.1 lakh) and H.D. Deve Gowda (Rs 76,772).