Decades old phone bills haunt five former Congress ministers

Ministers belonging to the Congress party face property attachment for ignoring the government's pleas to pay arrears of telephone bills during their overstay in official bungalows.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai | Published: October 7, 2015 4:10:25 am

FIVE former Maharashtra ministers belonging to the Congress party face property attachment for ignoring the government’s pleas to pay arrears of telephone bills during their overstay in official bungalows.

The General Administration Department (GAD) headed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is set to initiate recovery proceedings if they fail to pay, and would involve attachment of movable and immovable assets. Politicians who figure in the defaulters’ list held ministerial portfolios at different times between 1985 and 1995, when the Congress solely ruled the state.

Capture 1The “defaulting former ministers’ list” includes one-time Maharashtra Congress party chief N M Kamble, Chandrika Jain (Kenia), Panditrao Daund, Subodh Savji, and Vidya Belose.

Official records show the CM-led department has warned them on more than a couple of occasions that further delay would invite strict action. Official sources revealed that the action being contemplated is under section 17 of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Recovery Rule, 1967, which allows movable and immovable assets to be attached.

Under norms, ministers are allowed to utilise telephone facility at the official bungalow at government cost for an additional period of 15 days after withdrawal from the post. Bills during overstay thereafter has to be borne by the politician. Official documents show that overstay ranged from a month to 29 months.

The government action comes in light of repeated objections by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India regarding non-recovery of dues, sources said. “The CAG has been breathing down the state administration’s neck over the issue since 2009,” a senior official said.

Records reveal that none of the defaulters has responded to government pleas.

When it was in the opposition, the BJP had repeatedly targeted the Congress over the controversy in the assembly. The issue was raised in the house for the first time in November 1988, when the then Chief Minister Sharad Pawar assured the house that “everything necessary would be done to recover the amount in full.” The matter has been repeatedly raised in the house since.

The original defaulters’ list had 15 names. Sources said some have paid up, and a few have died. In 2009, the state parliamentary affairs department decided to waive outstanding dues in case a former minister dies.

Fadnavis’s predecessor Prithviraj Chavan issued a directive in May, 2014, asking the politicians to pay the outstanding amount or face action. “The action was not initiated,” a source said. “The politicians were again intimated in December after the BJP took over the reins in the state,” he added.
In 2008, a proposal to recover the dues from pension of these former ministers was considered. It was deferred after the parliamentary affairs department contended there was no provision to recover dues from the pension.

While Jain had the highest dues at Rs 2.42 lakh, Savji has dues amounting to Rs 57793. The GAD communication gives no indication of interest for delay in payment.

When contacted by The Indian Express, Belose said, “I’m willing to settle the dues. But the government has also withheld my three-month salary and allowances as an MLA that totals around Rs 1 lakh. The government must pay these dues,” she said. Belose denied making telephone calls during her period of overstay and said, “This must have been done by the staff. I had sought details of the telephone bills when I met former minister-of-state (GAD) Faujiya Khan (she was a minister in the previous Congress, NCP regime). But they (the government) are yet to provide these.”

Sanjay Daund, son of Panditrao Daund, denied having received any government communication regarding arrears. “As far as I know, we have no dues pending,” he said. Calls to other politicians did not elicit a response.

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