self disclosures Top leaders lie on oath
Trust our politicians
to tweak any law. As Harinder Baweja and Aman
Khanna find out, the disclosures of their assets are nothing
but lies and an effort to hoodwink the people, whose fundamental right
to know was upheld by a landmark Supreme Court judgement.
in Madhya Pradesh are keenly watching a street play called Bhedia Tantra
(Loot Raj) in which the politician is likened to the wily wolf. The nimble-footed
predator who has made a habit of feasting on smaller animals — the
voters — decides to contest the election but is worried about getting
the support of the constituents. He has made them his meal for so long,
after all. But like most politicians, he is a clever strategist and making
promises comes easy to him. And he surprises most by declaring that he
would henceforth work as a true representative of the people. The crafty
political aspirant vows to deal with the vicious nexus between money and
muscle power. And his assets? He would declare them all honestly and ensure
financial transparency and accountability. His voters would be his true
assets. He even promises to become a vegetarian. Surprised with his makeover,
the animal kingdom comes out in droves to vote for him; secure in the
knowledge that they would not be his prey anymore. The wolf wins with
an outstanding margin and the minute his victory is announced, along comes
another declaration: he was only a wolf in sheep’s clothing during
the campaign. He passes a law according to which he is to be served an
animal for each meal.
The play has been chosen as a vehicle by election watch groups to educate
the voters about the March 2003 Supreme Court judgement according to which
it is mandatory for all
candidates to give details of criminal cases, if any, and to also declare
all their financial assets and liabilities. Tehelka decided to scrutinise
the affidavits filed by top leaders to see how much they are actually
worth. Shockingly, none of those scrutinised have been truthful in their
declaration. Most have undervalued the prime property they own. Former
finance minister Yashwant Sinha has got his arithmetic all wrong. Leader
of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul have chosen to ignore
the requisites and declared the value of their farmhouse according to
wealth tax filed and not the current market value. Deputy Prime Minister
LK Advani, a self-professed pracharak, owns two plush flats in Heritage
City in Gurgaon, a satellite town bordering Delhi. Defence Minister George
Fernandes, who admits to being a crorepati, interestingly, does not own
a car (see box). Minister for Civil Aviation Rajiv Pratap Rudy says he
does not possess a house but also declares a housing loan at the same
time. And Mayawati, Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader and champion of the
dalits — who could now well be one of the ‘King Makers’
— is worth more than Rs 10 crore.
“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar,”
American author and editor HL Mencken once said. The analogy applies quite
aptly to Indian politicians. Under whipping from the Supreme Court, they
had no option but to declare their assets. But the Representation of People
(amendment) Bill, which was stuffed down the throats of the netas by the
honourable apex court, seems to have been easily digested by the leaders;
even the political bigwigs who should have been setting an example for
others to follow.
The others, perhaps lesser known — but not necessarily poorer —
have sidestepped the proforma to suit their needs. Union Minister for
Coal Kariya Munda, for instance, does not pay income tax as per his affidavit.
In Orissa, most of the top rich candidates belong to the landed gentry
and royalty. “But when it comes to disclosing assets they seem to
have selective amnesia,’’ says Bibhu Mahapatra of the Association
for Democratic Reforms, a citizens’ group which petitioned the Supreme
Court for electoral reforms. KP Singh Deo, Raja
of Dhenkanal and a former minister, he points out, declared all his assets
to the minutest detail, but did not put a current value to a bungalow
he owns in Delhi’s South Extension area. Pinaki Misra, the Congress’
richest candidate from Orissa, does not put a price to his Mercedes and
Sangeeta Singhdeo, bjp candidate from Baudh in Orissa, gives the value
of her gold jewellery inheritance in the pre-1958 price. And in Jharkhand,
prominent candidates like jmm supremo Shibhu Soren and Congress President
Thomas Hansda haven’t bothered to declare the current value of their
properties. In short, politicians, big and small, in power and out, have
all made a mockery of the mandatory rule. Worse, they have all sworn to
tell the truth and got their affidavits testified by oath commissioners.
Says a senior member of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, another
watchdog spearheading the need for transparency, “The representatives
of the people are either cheats or liars or both.”
It’s not that political leaders and party presidents haven’t
been saying the right things in speeches. “We will introduce necessary
electoral reforms…so as to deal with the malaise of defections,
corruption and criminalisation of politics and prevent electoral malpractise,”
the nda government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee promised. The Congress
mouthed similar support, saying it was “fully committed to radical
electoral reforms to reduce the influence of money and muscle power and
to check the criminalisation of politics at all levels”.
Yet, when the Supreme Court suggested radical electoral reforms, both
the nda and the Congress joined hands to overturn the apex court’s
recommendations. They fought tooth and nail against the very idea of having
to declare their assets. When, in its first judgement of May 2002, the
court asked for all candidates to furnish financial details, saying it
was in keeping with the voters’ fundamental right to know their
representatives, the political parties protested loudly. Their reasoning
— such a disclosure was irrelevant, unwarranted and cumbersome to
provide. They also protested about the move saying the Election Commission
was being given too much power. The citizens’ rights groups had
also demanded that the returning officers be given the right to disqualify
candidates who were found to be giving false information. Mere information
disclosure will not serve its purpose unless the information reaches the
voter and they make effective use of this information. Only an informed
and watchful electorate can keep corrupt and criminal elements away from
legislatures, the groups argued.
But power is what politicians want to retain as their exclusive domain.
And so, the government quickly passed an ordinance according to which
only winning candidates would have to file their assets. This, the ordinance
recommended, be filed to the chairperson of the House. But there was a
catch here too; one that only gave away the political intention —
no time limit was given for either Parliament or state Assemblies to frame
the proforma. In keeping with the “they are all thieves” argument
— that for once is neither cynical nor clichéd — all
parties agreed to support the ordinance in Parliament.
The threat of disqualification was what the politicians feared most. They
feared the possibility of being punished for testifying to wrong information,
for lying on oath is a criminal offence punishable with six months imprisonment
and a fine or both. “The dilemma for politicians,’’
says Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, “was
to either reveal all information about their ill-gotten gains and lose
face publicly or lie on oath and face punishment, which would only cause
The Supreme Court, however, intervened to scrap the ordinance. But what
it also did was to say that it would be difficult for the election officers
to verify each affidavit given the fact that there is little time between
when nominations are filed and scrutinised. The court, however, said that
rival candidates could file cases in either the High Court or the apex
court. This is the first general election since the order and says Jagdeep
Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms, “We may see a
spate of petitions once electioneering is over.”
As Tehelka found, there are enough discrepancies in the affidavits. Few
politicians have owned up to cars bigger than the vintage Maruti 800.
Almost all of them live in extreme penury — Yashwant Sinha has only
Rs 1,700 in cash — and are alive and kicking on the income and assets
of their dependents. Non-working wives have more money than their minister
husbands. Yet, the spouses — Members of Parliament earn around Rs
25,000 per month — have properties worth crores. Fernandes’
wife owns a house worth
Rs 2.5 crore in Delhi as does Sinha’s wife. Her house in Noida is
worth Rs 1 crore.
Here is what we found when we sat with a senior chartered accountant and
went house-hunting as regular clients in the neighbourhoods where our
netas have built mini palaces. Most of these houses have of course been
undervalued. The ec affidavit clearly demands the current market value
but then, furnishing false information is not a criminal offence yet.
Unless rival candidates decide to dig up the dirt.
Most candidates vet their declaration forms through accountants and lawyers
but if some of them do find themselves being dragged to court, they will
only have themselves to blame. For, it is the candidate who puts his or
her signature to the form and it is a sworn testimonial.
Excerpts from an ongoing investigation which examines what candidates
have declared and not what they may have chosen to leave out. The ludicrous
self disclosures are an eye-opener.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi
has testified to possessing Rs 25,000 in cash and a bank balance of
Rs 26.20 lakh. She also has RBI bonds worth Rs 10.53 lakh, other savings
worth Rs 14 lakh approximately and jewellery worth Rs 14.71 lakh. Her
entire movable assets, as per her testimony, total around Rs 70 lakh.
Her immovable assets, including a share in Indira Gandhi’s farmhouse
in Delhi, have been declared to have a value of a ridiculous Rs 2.19 lakh.
Similarly, the house in Italy has been valued at Rs 12.45 lakh, according
to wealth tax, and not current value.
Like his mother, Rahul too is a shareholder in the farmhouse in Dera Mandi.
His share has been valued at Rs 9.86 lakh, again, as per wealth tax returns
and not the current market value as specifically required by the ec. Apart
from this, Rahul has also given details of his bank accounts and investments.
He has Rs 28.30 lakh rupees, £26, 400 and $19, 200.
u Sonia admits to having paid Rs 91,963 as income tax for the assessment
year 2003-2004. This means that she has an annual income of approximately
Rs 4 lakh. Her affidavit, however, does not disclose her sources of income.
is known is that as the leader of the Opposition, she does not draw more
than Rs 25,000 as a monthly salary.
u According to the affidavit, Rahul has claimed to have paid an income
tax of Rs 18,169 for the assessment year 2003-2004. Again, this means
he earned an annual income of Rs 1.5 lakh. The question his detractors
are now asking is that with an income like this, how did he afford a swanky
holiday in Kumarakom last year-end?
u While it would be difficult to question Rahul’s savings in foreign
currency, questions can be raised about the Rs 28.30 lakh for somebody
who left the country in 1989. He returned a few years ago but his affidavit
does not reveal his source of income for the Rs 20 lakh that is currently
deposited in uco and Citibank. Nor has he specified where he got the remaining
money that has been invested in bonds or the Rs 2.5 lakh capital he invested
in Backops Services.
u The first family of Indian politics seems unwilling to shrug off the
grand legacy of their ancestors. Seemingly, even the real estate prices
of Indira’s times are clung to, lovingly. The lavish five acres
of land in the premium farmhouse hub of Delhi, near Chhatarpur, has been
declared worth a paltry Rs 9.86 lakh by Rahul and Rs 2.19 lakh by Sonia
Gandhi. The value, they say, is according to the wealth tax returns filed.
However, real estate agents sitting right next door to the farmhouse would
tell you the quoted value is not a patch on the real worth of the land.
The owner of BR Estates, a realtor, pegged Gandhi’s prime land at
around Rs 2-2.5 crore per acre, which makes the farmhouse worth about
Rs 12.5 crore. Even the lesser-known villages used for farmhouses in the
vicinity of Chhatarpur, like Ghitorni and Gadaipur, command values between
Rs 80 lakh and Rs 1.5 crore per acre.
Armed personnel stand guard on watchtowers on all corners of the farmhouse.
Barbed wire has been put up on walls already about 10 metres high. Insiders
claim the property boasts of a sparkling swimming pool with Italian machinery.
All this, mother and son say, is worth Rs 12 lakh or so.
bjp’s principal pracharak who moved from Karachi to India in 1949
has testified to movable and immovable assets worth Rs 1.30 crore. Advani
and wife Kamla have bank accounts of Rs 12.28 lakh and Rs 11.19 lakh respectively.
Her jewellery — bangles, necklaces, rings and earrings — is
worth an approximate Rs 7 lakh and their savings through nsc and other
policies total Rs 14 lakh. Advani also has three properties in his name
— two flats in Heritage City, Gurgaon, worth Rs 30 lakh each and
another in Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, worth Rs 25 lakh.
u The first question that arises is, how has this accumulation of wealth
taken place? What have his sources of income been? The deputy prime minister
has been home minister for the past few years and was a minister in the
Janata government in 1977. Apart from the salary he has drawn as a minister,
his only other job has been as a journalist with the rss mouthpiece Organiser,
where he earned a stipend as most Sangh employees do. How, indeed, has
he accumulated assets worth Rs 1.30 crore?
u Despite the declaration of income tax details being mandatory as per
the ec guidelines, the country’s deputy prime minister has not bothered
to provide details of his income tax returns. All he says is — income
tax return filed up to assessment year 2003-2004.
u Right next to one of the glitzy malls of Gurgaon, stands Unitech Heritage
City, an upmarket neighbourhood with purplish, angular apartments. Its
developers proudly boast of the crème de la crème of society
as residents, including Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. He owns two adjacent
duplex flats in this swanky, exclusive island, each 1,849 square feet
and, apparently, worth Rs 30 lakh.
But according to Unitech agent Sanjay Chaudhary, the current market rate
of Rs 2,200 per square feet makes each apartment worth about Rs 42 lakh.
This sum is excluding the price of the terrace area, which Advani’s
apartments enjoy. The neighbourhood in which Advani’s apartments
fall was developed in the mid-1990s and back then, the going rate was
between Rs 1,200 and 2,000 per square feet. Today, contrastingly, even
the rent for a duplex apartment in Heritage City is about Rs 18,000 per
Sinha’s affidavit says he has a mere Rs 1,700 in cash and a bank
balance of Rs 9.78 lakh. Other savings in bonds total Rs 45.5 lakh and
his wife has a house in Noida worth Rs 1 crore, according to him.
The former finance minister and ex-bureaucrat who has had finance wizards
at his disposal has forgotten to tell the voters of Hazaribagh, Jharkhand
and the rest of the country what his sources of income are. He has declared
movable assets worth Rs 55 lakh but is mum on how this wealth was accumulated.
He could not have earned this amount even if his salaries as an ias officer
and minister were to be combined.
u Sinha’s wife owns a house in Noida that the honourable minister
has truthfully declared. What he has not put down is the fact that they
are earning a monthly rent of approximately Rs 30,000 — the current
rent prevalent in the sector in which their house is located. The bungalow,
that includes three bedrooms and a basement, has been declared at Rs 1
crore. But a few paces away from Sinha’s bungalow, we found many
property dealers in the local neighbourhood market. One of these is Ganpati
Property Consultants. Its owner, Rakesh Singh, suggested that we buy Sinha’s
bungalow immediately if it was offered anywhere near Rs 2.10 crore. A
realtor for the last six years in the area, he maintained confidently
that the going rate of land in Sinha’s lane is about Rs 45,000 per
square metre. Simple calculations say Sinha’s land itself should
be worth Rs 2 crore. According to his neighbours, Sinha has never settled
down in the bungalow; instead, he has continuously rented it out ever
since he bought the place about five years ago. Going by the current rent
for a three-bedroom house in his neighbourhood, Sinha should be earning
around Rs 30,000 a month, or Rs 3.6 lakh a year. Again, Sinha has omitted
to mention the fact that the property has been put on rent.
Dalit Joan of Arc who has never had a job and has always been a politician
has declared an astronomical bank balance of Rs 9.78 crore, jewellery
worth Rs 30.94 lakh, and four plots in Delhi that she claims are worth
Rs 1.25 crore.
u If returning officers had the power to disqualify candidates for providing
false information, Mayawati would be an immediate casualty. The former
chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who has no inherited assets nor any agricultural
or non-agricultural income has declared Rs 10 crore but not accounted
for how this wealth was amassed. She has not shown any outstanding loans.
Neither has the leader of the ‘Bahujan Samaj’ bothered to
get into the finer points of giving details of her income tax returns.
u The total value of four plots in West Delhi’s upmarket C block
of Inderpuri colony is worth only Rs 1.25 crore, according to her. Visit
the location once and you’ll know that the properties belong to
either a politician or an industrialist. A palatial two-storey house is
being built on one pair of land. Humongous blocks of red stone lie on
the side of a parallel road. The construction has been continuing for
the past one year and, as a contractor says, will not finish anytime soon.
Nearby, in A Block, Amit Arora of Unique Associates, a property dealer,
told us the real price of housing in the area. A tract of land of about
500 square yards is between Rs 1.5 and 1.75 crore. Mayawati’s properties
are about 1,000 and 600 square yards in size. The total value of all four
properties put together is nothing less than Rs 4 crore.
minister for civil aviation who is now pitted in an electoral battle against
Laloo Prasad Yadav from Bihar’s Chhapra constituency has declared
cash and other savings worth Rs 43.67 lakh for the Rudy family. They have
also owned up to possessing two cars, each worth Rs 4.3 and Rs 6.3 lakh,
but he does not tell us what these cars are even though the details of
the make are a specification mandated by the ec.
The minister who forced a public sector undertaking to cough up Rs 2.44
lakh for a private holiday he and his wife took to Goa for New Year eve
had the money to pay for it, as his affidavit discloses. What it does
not disclose, however, is where and how he accumulated Rs 43.67 lakh.
Rudy, who joined the Cabinet in 2001 and was an mla in the early 1990s
was teaching economics at the Magadh University prior to that. He and
his wife have two dependent children to spend on and neither have any
other declared source of income.
u The high-flying Rudy does not possess any abode to live in on the ground.
According to the affidavit filed in his constituency, Chhapra, he does
not own any immovable property: no commercial, residential or agricultural
land, not even an apartment. Yet the same affidavit also points out that
Rudy raised a housing loan along with his wife, Neelam Pratap Singh, from
Delhi’s Nehru Place branch of the Bank of Punjab. The value is not
mentioned. Even a layman would laugh at the incongruity. A bank would
permit a loan only once the details of the land to be bought or developed
have been furnished. Rudy will have to explain how he forgot to disclose
the details. Omissions by him and all others are a clear violation of
the Supreme Court order.
u Rudy’s wife’s car was bought only after a loan was raised
through Citibank but the minister does not specify how his own vehicle
was bought. Since he has shown no loan for this, it can be presumed, aver
chartered accountants, that a down payment was made. Again, where did
this money come from? Add the value of his car — Rs 4.30 lakh —
to his total savings and the figure goes up from Rs 43.67 lakh to Rs 47.97