Times of India, Pune, Thursday 7th September 2017
(Note: The exponential rise in the assets of MPs and MLAs during their tenure as lawmakers has come under judicial scanner with the Supreme Court on Wednesday directing the Centre to furnish a comprehensive report on what action or probe it has conducted against 289 legislators, including some senior leaders. In deference to our Holy Father Francis, how transparent is the Indian Church on financial matters or temporal goods? It owns 25% if not more, of the total educational institutions and health care services in India. Not a matter to be taken lightly: the clergy class which supposedly shepherds the Indian Christian population (2.3% of India's population as per the Census), owns one-fourth of the schools, colleges and health care in India, not to mention the huge ownership of other temporal goods. These have been donated by believing patrons to the Church, in unquestioning faith that these will be used for the welfare of the believers who are economically weak! The million dollar question is, is this the ground reality, if one were to go by the world-renowned Auditors' findings on the mismanagement of Peter's Pence at the Vatican Bank? Isaac Gomes, Church Citizens’ Voice).
The exponential rise in the assets of MPs and MLAs during their tenure as lawmakers has come under judicial scanner with the Supreme Court on Wednesday directing the Centre to furnish a comprehensive report on what action or probe it has conducted against 289 legislators, including some senior leaders.
The MPs and leaders who figure on the list are from all parties and in some cases the assets have gone up by more than 500% in five years. Growth of assets has been a controversial issue with some MPs pointing out that appreciation in property values or business incomes can be a legitimate reason. But the court is keen on probing whether big jumps in assets were accounted for by legal income.
A bench of justices J. Chelarameswar and S. Abdul Nazeer said a probe is needed to find the source of income and whether property amassed was through legal means. It pulled up the Centre for its reluctance in sharing information and directed the government to file a report within a week.
The court said a representation was made to the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) way back in June 2015 by an NGO seeking probe against such politicians but the Centre’s response had been vague and it did not categorically state the outcome of any investigation or whether one was conducted at all. The representation was made on the basis of a report prepared by the Association of Democratic Reforms which collected asset details of politicians filed in the 2009 and 2014 general and state elections.
Senior Advocate K. Radhakrishnan, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that investigations into affairs of persons contesting elections, as a class, was not undertaken but specific cases where there were reasons to undertake verification were probed. He said outcome of such inquiries were shared by jurisdictional investigations directorates directly with the Election Commission. The bench was not satisfied with the response and asked why the Centre is shying from a probe as the information is in public domain and authorities had to simply find out if it was possible to acquire property from known sources of income.
“Information in CBDT affidavit is vague. If this is the attitude of the Government of India, what can be done? Why don’t you place the information before the court on what you have done in those cases? Place the information before us,“ it said. “You better file a detailed affidavit. This affidavit which you have filed is nothing but typed papers. Do not make vague statements.”
The Centre’s counsel K. Radhakrishnan said the Swachh Bharat Mission is not only meant to clean garbage but also remove corrupt practices in elections. “Cleaning is not only for garbage but also for this aspect. Action will be taken whenever corrupt practices are noticed. There is a sincere effort on the part of the government to cleanse the system. We will welcome any direction by the court in this regard and address the issue with utmost sincerity,” he said, adding that, “We believe in action.”
The bench immediately responded to his submission and said, “You have to demonstrate before us. You have to show that you believe in action. You have to file detailed affidavit giving categorical statements and not vague response on what action you have taken (regarding jump in assets of MPs, MLAs).”
“The government is saying that it is not averse to reform. So please file necessary information. You make statements on action taken by you and it would show your bona fide,” the bench said, granting time till 12th September for the Centre to file the affidavit.