VINITA DESHMUKH , Moneylife.com| 24/04/2013
Income Tax authorities have denied information about I-T returns of 22 MPs, including Sharad Pawar, Naveen Jindal, Maneka Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Beni Prasad Verma, Ajit Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav and 20 MLAs. After suspending the hearing 27 times for over three years, the CIC has given the MPs and MLAs three weeks to file their replies
It often takes just one election victory of five years—for Members of the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies to get stinking rich, what with their wealth increasing a 1,000 times, in some cases.
According to a research carried out by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), the Lok Sabha MPs (2004-2009) have had an average increase in assets to the tune of 289% or Rs2.9 crore per MP within five years.
As for the MPs from the Rajya Sabha, BJP has 14 out of 16 candidates who are crorepatis, followed by Congress with 12 crorepati candidates out of 15 candidates. “There is also the issue of conflict of interest,” says Anil Bairwal of ADR. “58% of the Rajya Sabha members are ‘crorepatis’ with flourishing professional practices, shareholding in media, infrastructure, hospitality besides paid consultancy and other engagements,” he adds.
Thus, Bairwal says, “Going by the swelling in the pouches of our MPs and MLAs in the 2009 elections, it is extremely desirable that their I-T returns are made public. The recent increase in the assets of Members of Parliament (MPs) portrays some figures which appear lopsided and doubtful. There are parliamentarians who have increased their assets more than one thousand times over while in Parliament. Furthermore, what is the foundation of this breeding money among the political parties, nobody knows.”
Bairwal has filled innumerable RTI applications in the relevant Income Tax offices of the 22 MPs and 20 MLAs, which he zeroed on, considering the increase in their assets between 2004 and 2009. His RTIs, which were filed in 2010 were stonewalled by all the respective Public Information Officers and Appellate Authorities. In fact, his second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC) was suspended 27 times until it was finally heard on 16 April 2013, a good three years later. Once again, three more weeks have been given to reply.
The prominent names in the list of 22 MPs and 20 MLAs whose I-T returns were asked for under RTI are Sharad Pawar, Naveen Jindal, Maneka Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Beni Prasad Verma, Ajit Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Bairwal has asked for the following information in his RTI application:
1. Whether the MPs/MLAs who fall in your jurisdiction have filed their I-T returns for all the five years (2004-2009)
2. Please provide the years for which these MPs have not filed their returns
3. Please provide details of the -IT return & assessment orders for all the years for which they have filed.
Apart from the RTI application, Bairwal also separately requested all Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs to disclose their I-T returns in larger public interest. Says Bairwal, “Some of these MPs sent us their I-T Returns and insisted that we make them public on our website whereas others uploaded them on their own website. We also came across some MPs and MLAs who have already submitted their I-T returns along with the respective chief minister’s office and the prime minister’s office.’’ In all, 28 of them including Anu Aga and Ambika Soni have revealed their I-T returns – (see box below).
As per the press release issued by ADR on 16 April 2013 “Of the 20 MPs whose I-T returns were asked for under RTI, the details of only three MPs—Mr Baju Ban Ryan MP from Tripura East constituency), Mr Shafiqur Rahman Barq (MP from Sambhal constituency of Uttar Pradesh) and Ms Usha Verma (MP from Hardoi constituency of Uttar Pradesh) were made available by the Public Information Officers (PIO). The I-T returns of others MPs were denied under various sections, like 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d), 11(1) and 11(3) of the RTI Act. TheRTIs of seven MPs were transferred but lost in transit hence no information was available.”
At the CIC hearing, representatives of 10 out of 20 MPs were present. The public information officers who denied the information stating lack of larger public interest and the representatives of MPs/ MLAs were invited for the hearing. The bench comprised Information Commissoners (IC) Mr ML Sharma, Ms Annapurna Dixit and Mr Rajiv Mathur.
The three CICs repeatedly questioned the representatives of the MPs as to how disclosing of their I-T returns was not in larger public interest. They repeatedly referred to the Supreme Court judgment which made declarations of assets and other details mandatory at thetime of contesting elections.. However, no arguments were put forth by the Public information Officers of the I-T department who had initially denied providing the information stating lack of public interest, states the press statement of ADR.
Mr Bairwal argued that there is overriding public interest in I-T returns of the MPs and that most of the requested information was already in public domain as the total income filed in the latest I-T returns of all candidates have to be provided in their affidavits along with their nomination papers to the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Mr Bairwal stated during the argument at the CIC that, “the Supreme Court has deliberated in detail on this issue while directing the ECI to collect and make public the information on assets of the contesting candidates at the time of elections through affidavits. The Supreme Court of India had specifically noted through its decision on 13 March 2003 (Writ Petition No. 490/509/515 of 2002) that asking for asset details of the parliamentarians/legislatures does not invade the privacy of the individual.”
Amongst the arguments put forth by representatives of MPs, Mr Ajith Singh’s senior advocate argued “that if the MPs are considered public servants, the I-T returns of every public servant should be requested for; lawyers of Mr Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia argued that any tax payer serves larger public interest by paying tax hence their personal information cannot be made available in the public domain; the representative of Kumari Selja when asked if he would be willing to declare his/his client’s I-T returns, stated that “rule of privacy will prevail” and “I am not obliged under law to declare my I-T returns in the public domain”.
The attendees included lawyers, chartered accountants and representatives of Mr Uday Singh, Ms Maneka Gandhi, Mr Sachin Pilot, Mr Dushyant Singh, Kumari Selja, Mr Beni Prasad Verma, Mr Ajith Singh, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr T R Baalu.
The CIC has given three weeks’ time for the representatives of the MPs to provide a copy of their written submissions after which it will give its decision.
Says Mr Bairwal, “Tax returns of Parliamentarians are voluntarily being disclosed in countries like the US and UK. Presidential tax returns in the United States are available online. Like all other citizens, US presidents also enjoy the protection of their privacy, but they chose to release their tax returns publicly. Tax returns of Barack Obama, George W Bush and others are available online. (www.Presidentsusa.net). Their tax returns are open for public scrutiny and such sort of a transparency is truly commendable. Our parliamentarians should also do likewise as this will underline the faith of the citizens in the representatives chosen by them…”
|Those who voluntarily put their Income Tax returns in the public domain|
|1||Neeraj Shekhar||UP||Ballia||SP||MP LS||ITR|
|2||Sadashiv Dadoba Mandlik||Maharashtra||Kolhapur||IND||MP LS||ITR|
|3||Abhijit Mukherjee||West Bengal||Jangipur||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|4||Mirza Mehboob Beg||J&K||Anantnag||J&K National Conference||MP LS||ITR|
|5||Bijoy Krishna Handique||Assam||Jorhat||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|6||Arnavaz Rohinton Aga||Maharashtra||NIL||Nominated||MP RS||ITR|
|7||Raju Anna Shetty||Maharashtra||Hatkanangle||Swabhimani Paksha||MP LS||ITR|
|8||Dr Ajoy Kumar||Jharkhand||Jamshedpur||JVM||MP LS||ITR|
|9||Mandagadde Rama Jois||Karnataka||Karnataka||BJP||MP RS||ITR|
|10||Dinesh Trivedi||West Bengal||Barrackpur||AITC||MP LS||ITR|
|11||Vilas Baburao Muttemwar||Maharashtra||Nagpur||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|12||Baishnab Charan Parida||Orissa||Orissa||BJD||MP RS||ITR|
|13||Tathagata Satpathy||Orissa||Dhenkanal||BJD||MP LS||ITR|
|14||Baju Ban Riyan||Tripura||Tripura East||CPI(M)||MP LS||ITR|
|15||Sudip Bandyopadhyay||West Bengal||Kolkata Utter||AITC||MP LS||ITR|
|16||Subodh Kant Sahay||Jharkhand||Ranchi||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|17||Pratik Prakashbapu Patil||Maharashtra||Sangli||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|18||Mahadeo Singh Khandela||Rajasthan||Sikar||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|19||Ajay Maken||Delhi||New Delhi||INC||MP LS||ITR|
|25||Rajkumar Sharma||Rajasthan||Nawalgarh||INC (contested on BSP ticket)||MLA||ITR|
|27||Murari Lal Meena||Rajasthan||Dasua||INC (contested on BSP ticket)||MLA||ITR|
|28||Hema Ram Choudhry||Rajasthan||Gudamalani||INC||MLA||ITR|
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)