The Delhi High Court Monday disallowed four questions by advocate Ram Jethmalani in a civil defamation suit filed by Union Minister Arun Jaitley against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and five AAP leaders seeking Rs 10 crore as damages.
Directing a barrage of questions to Jaitley before Joint Registrar (judicial) Rupali Sharma, Jethmalani asked the minister how he had estimated the damages at Rs 10 crore. “To show your great reputation, which has been injured, are you examining any witness in support of your reputation?”
He then went on to say that as Jaitley was a cabinet minister, “the best character witness” for him would be the Prime Minister. He also asked if Jaitley had consulted the PM before filing the suit. All three questions were disallowed by the court, which said, “The list of witnesses of plaintiff is on record.”
This is the third time the finance minister is being cross-examined by the advocate. He was earlier cross-questioned on March 6 and 7. The court has now listed the matter for further cross-examination on Wednesday .
Kejriwal and the AAP leaders had alleged financial irregularities by Jaitley during his tenure as president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA).
Asked if he remembered the meeting where “the proposal for donation for the construction of the stadium and its name were discussed”, Jaitley said during his initial days as DDCA president “a proposal was mooted that a full stadium be constructed at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground”.
“At that time, the income of the association was limited and the Board of Control for Cricket in India used to give only Rs 4 crore as infrastructure grant for construction of the stadium. Members, therefore, brought various proposals wherein the money could be donated either by some business house or the government. However, ultimately the association created a new model under which naming rights of various blocks and corporate boxes could provide adequate funding to start the construction. This is how the stadium was finally constructed and its historical name, ‘Feroz Shah Kotla’, retained,” he said.
The senior advocate then asked Jaitley about the Rs 22 crore offer to name the stadium after Dhirubhai Ambani, and another proposal from the government offering to pay all expenses if the stadium was named after Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.
Jaitley said some oral suggestions, without any firm proposal, were made, but they never materialised. The DDCA then decided to build the stadium on the basis of resources it mobilised on its own, he said.
“To the best of my knowledge, government funds to be allotted to any association needs a budgetary sanction from Parliament. There has never been a budgetary proposal to give government funds for funding stadiums of private associations,” he said.
Jethmalani then suggested that Jaitley imposed the decision on the DDCA to not accept any donation either from a private or a government donor, as he did not want any interference in the association’s spending.
Stating that “the suggestion was wrong in its entirety,” Jaitley said, “To ensure probity in spending, the contact for construction of stadium , through a bidding process, was awarded to a public sector organisation (Engineering Projects India Ltd).”
The advocate said the matter with the government could have been “easily resolved by you talking to your colleagues in government (in 2003 when BJP government was in power)”.
“I would have never done so since it would be a terrible precedent for a minister… to persuade his own government to spend funds on a private body, of which he is the president,” Jaitley replied.
Asked about the “factual controversy” of Rs 57 crore — which had been “corruptly misappropriated and shown as expenses” — Jaitley said the money/funds was spent “on creation of sports infrastructure and assets”.
Stating that a Rs 25-crore contract was given to EPIL initially, Jethmalani asked if a tender system was followed for the remaining amount of Rs 90 crore. Jaitley answered that he was not dealing with the construction directly.
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