Delhi’s cabinet minister Gopal Rai resigned from his post as transport minister citing health reasons on 14 June. On the same day late evening, the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) MLA and parliamentary secretary Alka Lamba was sacked from the post of party’s spokesperson for her statement on Rai, which was considered as a deviation from party line.
These back-to-back incidents brought the AAP-led Delhi government in the spotlight; especially on the issue of the premium bus service. The entire attention got focussed on Rai because it was he as the transport minister commissioned the controversial project.
What’s the controversy all about?
The controversy is about the premium bus service. The Delhi government during the second phase of the odd-even scheme in April had announced that the premium bus service would be made operational from mid-June. Registrations for the same were to be started on 1 June. But the scheme could not be launched because Delhi’s Lt Governor Najeeb Jung did not give his assent to the service and asked the transport minister to review it. It is alleged that Rai gave the green signal to the scheme, bypassing the L-G office.
Reportedly, several violations have taken place in the process. Resultantly, the ambitious scheme of AAP-government has taken the shape of a scam.
Premium bus service scheme:
It’s an App-based premium bus scheme similar to cab services like Ola and Uber. The Delhi government worked on an app linked to an aggregator, whose job was to link people with buses and ensure a safe passage. The buses would run on a fixed schedule, the seats would be numbered, no extra passengers would be taken on board, the bus would have to run even if there wasn’t a minimum number on a route and fines were to be imposed if the conditions weren’t met. It’s similar to a chartered bus and the booking for it could be on phone.
Why did Rai step down?
Gopal Rai stepped down citing health reasons, as he has recently had a surgery. But, as per the sources (including Alka Lamba), he resigned from the post of transport minister as he had been at the focal point of the project. Lamba had told the media that Gopal Rai had been “relieved” of his portfolio so that the AAP government’s premium bus scheme could be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Branch in a free and fair manner. She came under fire for this statement of hers.
AAP supporters may disagree, but it’s true that Rai didn’t resign from transport department only on health grounds. He continues to be the minister for employment, development, labour, general administration and, irrigation and flood control.
He’s also on the radar of Delhi’s anti-corruption branch, which is investigating the case.
What went wrong?
-There are allegations against Rai that he allegedly bypassed the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung’s office by giving the AAP government’s ambitious app-based premium bus service scheme a green signal. No prior approval was sought before the launch of the scheme. The scheme was notified by the AAP-government on 20 May.
-After stepping down, Rai had voluntarily presented himself before ACB Chief MK Meena. Later he claimed that the probe agency was "totally clueless" with respect to substantiating the graft charges in the scheme.
-According to sources, the ACB in its initial report has mentioned that the AAP government’s notification is based on deliberate misinterpretation of certain clauses of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (Clauses M & N of Section 66 refer to exceptions under the Act in the case of emergency-like situation). There was no emergency situation when the notification was issued.
-Contrary to government norms, where the secretary of a department (in this case the Transport department) presents a Cabinet note, in this case it was Rai who had prepared the note.
-As per the norm, the draft proposal for a scheme (like this premium bus scheme project) is supposed to be put on the public domain for public feedback; but in this case it wasn’t done.
-Sources said that transport department officials raised concerns over the proposed implementation of the scheme, but they remained unheard.
-“In the notification, the government stated—‘the L-G of the NCR is pleased to notify…’, but the fact is that it had no approval of L-G. It was incorrect,” a source said.
Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) investigation
A complaint was filed with the ACB by BJP legislator Vijender Gupta, alleging that the Delhi government has favoured an aggregator and no norms had been followed. Following it, the agency started probing on the alleged scam and has prepared an initial report which is related to the contract awarded for the premium bus service project. It is looking into the allegations of favouritism underlying the notification of a policy to enable app-based premium buses in the national capital to extend benefits to a Gurugram -based private operator.
The ACB has questioned Rai on the issue and it’s expected that it would go for a second round. The agency will also question others related to the implementation of the project.
“There are charges of corruption and it is a fact that Lieutenant Governor’s permission was not taken, but the notification claims that permission was taken…AAP government’s transport policy allegedly was tailor-made to benefit one operator, all stakeholders were not consulted,” ACB chief, MK Meena had reportedly said.
As the scheme has now got embroiled into a controversy and ACB investigating the case, this ambitious project of Kejriwal government, which could have been beneficial for Delhi public, is in limbo.