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AAP directed to pay Delhi govt coffers Rs 97 cr, after found using taxpayers' money to fund ads

The Aam Aadmi Party is in a soup in Delhi, following lieutenant governor Anil Baijal's directive to chief secretary MM Kutty, seeking the recovery of Rs 97 crore from the ruling party regarding public money spent on advertisements, which is in violation of a Supreme Court direction.

 AAP directed to pay Delhi govt coffers Rs 97 cr, after found using taxpayers money to fund ads

Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI file image

The LG's directive, though routed through the chief secretary, is actually addressed to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. If the Delhi government has to start the recovery process, then Kejriwal has to initiate this rather unusual — or even unprecedented process as chief minister. Moreover, if AAP is to comply with the directive, party chief Kejriwal would have to cough up Rs 97 crore from the party's kitty.

Worse, he has only 30 days to start and finish the recovery process, both as chief minister and as party chief. And he would have to not only arrange the Rs 97 crore to pay to the government he heads, but also inflict severe embarrassment upon himself and the party he formed.

As matters stands today, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would initiate a process of recovery of close to Rs 100 crore from Aam Admi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, to be paid to the Delhi government, headed by Arvind Kejriwal.

By doing so, Kejriwal would prima facie be admitting that he committed an act of severe impropriety as chief minister; that he diverted taxpayers' money, which should otherwise have been spent on public welfare measures, to promote the political interests of the party he leads. This would have huge ramifications for a man who came into politics as an anti-corruption crusader, as somebody who would set benchmarks for public probity and integrity.

If he does comply with Baijal's directive, it would give ammunition to the BJP and Congress, who will make his life difficult. If he doesn't comply, he would be charged of willful defiance of not only the apex court's orders, but also of long-standing norms of governance and constitutional structure.

Of the Rs 97 crore figure quoted, the government has paid Rs 42 crore to advertising agencies, while Rs 55 crore is due to be paid.

Baijal has based his order on the Supreme Court mandated Committee on Content Regulation of Government Advertising (CCRGA). The committee came to the conclusion that advertisements issued by the Delhi government were published in states outside Delhi, and were meant to promote the Aam Aadmi Party, and thus the party should pay for these ads.

The committee started examining a complaint filed by Congress leader Ajay Maken on directions of the Delhi High Court, which asked it to submit its report in six weeks' time.

Consider what the committee said in its conclusion:

This committee found violations of guidelines. The committee directs that appropriate action be initiated as per relevant rules against all those responsible for the violations. The main purpose and objective of the guidelines framed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India was to prevent misuse of government funds for the projection of image of a politician or political party in power. Since the same has happened even after the judgment, the only way it could be remedied is to make the political party, the main beneficiary in the process of violation, pay for the expenditure incurred by the government.

It further added:

The committee directs the government of NCT of Delhi to assess the expenditure incurred by it in issuing advertisements (i) outside the territory of Delhi on the occasion of various anniversaries (except those tender/appointment advertisements which are outside the purview of these guidelines); (ii) on those advertisements/advertorials in which the name of Aam Admi Party is mentioned; (iii) on those advertisements which publicised the views of the chief minister on incidents that took place in other states; and (iv) on those advertisements which targeted the opposition. The committee further directs the government of NCT of Delhi to get the entire expenditure so incurred on the above mentioned category of advertisements reimbursed to the state exchequer from the Aam Admi Party.

"The committee directs the member secretary to make the copies of this order available to the Lt. Governor of Delhi, and the chief secretary, Government of NCT of Delhi, for taking necessary action," it said. The high court had also directed the committee to send a copy of its report to its registrar.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report prepared in March this year, had blasted the Kejriwal government for spending Rs 29 crore in advertisements outside Delhi, in clear violation of the Supreme Court's directions. "On a test check of records, the audit observed that expenditure of Rs 24.29 crore was incurred on advertisements and publicity campaigns that were not in conformity with the generally accepted principles of financial propriety or guidelines on content regulation approved by the Supreme Court... over 85 percent of expenditure of Rs 33.40 crore incurred in one specific publicity campaign pertaining to advertisements released outside Delhi, which was beyond the responsibility of the Delhi government," the CAG report said.

Baijal's orders have come just days ahead of municipal elections in Delhi, and this is sure to mark a new chapter in the conflict brewing between the chief minister's office and Rajniwas.

Baijal's order, as it comes ahead of municipal elections in Delhi is sure to make a new beginning in conflict between Rajniwas and chief minister's office. Unfortunately for Kejriwal this time, even public opinion is not on his side, and given the volume of evidence, even the judiciary (if he does take it to court) may not take a favourable view on his plea.

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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2017 20:26:09 IST