Source: 
IndianLeaks
http://indianleaks.in/opinion/damning-self-disclosures-top-leaders-lie-on-oath/
Date: 
30.12.2010

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.

Voters 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 further humiliation.”

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
Affidavit

Sonia 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.

Counter Affidavit
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.

 What
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.

Lal Krishna Advani
Affidavit

The 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.

Counter Affidavit
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 month.

Yashwant Sinha
Affidavit

Yashwant 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.

Counter Affidavit
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.

Mayawati
Affidavit

The 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.

Counter Affidavit
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.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy
Affidavit
The 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.

Counter Affidavit
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 lakh.


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