Coming straight to the nub of the matter, let me start by first and foremost pointing out that with the income and assets of 11 Rajya Sabha and 26 Lok Sabha MPs showing a phenomenal jump, in some cases even more than 800 percent, the Supreme Court on September 6 asked the Centre to reveal what action was taken by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) against the high profile elected representatives after this list was submitted to the agency by a NGO way back in June 2015. Why no strict action against them? Why has a long rope been extended to them?
No doubt, if this is done so, it will send a right, loud and clear message to all that MPs too are not above the law. They too will have to face the axe if they dared to violate the provisions of any law. They will not be treated as being above law just because they are MPs.
Let me submit here that the increase was measured by comparing their affidavit submitted in 2016 with the assets declared in the previous election. The Lok Sabha list of reelected MPs whose income and assets between 2009 and 2014 grew by over 500 percent included Congress chief Sonia Gandhi (537 percent), BJP’s DV Sadananda Gowda (588 percent), BJP’s Arjun Ram Meghwal (608 percent), SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav (613 percent), BJP’s Varun Gandhi (625 percent), BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha (778 percent), AIADMK’s P Venugopal (1281 percent), Trinamool Congress’s Sisir Kumar Adhikari (1700 percent), Muslim League’s ET Mohammad Basheer (2081 percent) and BJP’s Kamlesh Paswan (5649 percent) among others. This merits a serious and impartial probe.
Needless to say, it is most unfortunate that the Apex Court found the affidavit vague. It should have been very clear right at the first instance. But the CBDT failed to do its homework properly on this which caused the Supreme Court to raise its eyebrows!
Truly speaking, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which is an NGO working in the area of political and electoral reforms too has moved an intervention application in the case. It has claimed that assets of 4 current Lok Sabha MPs have increased by 1200%. 22 MPs have declared an asset increase of over 500%. One newly elected Rajya Sabha MP Anil Madhav Dave has declared an asset growth of over 100% since he last filed his affidavit. It also said that seven other newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs have declared increase of over 200%.
It must be added here that the Attorney General KK Venugopal pointed out that the right to privacy now declared a fundamental right, the returns filed by individual candidates is part of his/her privacy that needs to be protected. The Bench said it will have to be balanced against the citizen’s right to know under Article 19(1)(a) for determining which interest is superior. Although Centre refused to disclose details claiming immunity available to DGIT investigation under Right to Information Act, the Bench wondered whether such immunity can exist for lawmakers when people have a Constitutional right to know details of their elected representatives. Justice Chelameswar quoted the Vohra Committee report pertaining to nexus between politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats and said nothing has changed since then! Absolutely right!
“What happened after that? Is it not high time we did something about it?” the Apex Court asked Venugopal as it reserved its order on a PIL that wants it mandatory for politicians to declare their and their family members sources of income at the time of filling up nomination papers. The department court felt, should ascertain the factors that lead an MLA and MP to amass huge wealth within a short span of time.
All said and done, Centre must come clean on it. When PM Narendra Modi wants highest transparency from the people by giving the detailed account of each and every source of income then why should MPs and MLAs be exempted from it? Why should political parties be exempted from it? Why Modi has never spoken on this? Why even no explanation has been sought leave alone action from those MPs and MLAs whose assets have shot up immensely in a very short span of time?
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.