B.P. Misra, IAS, AGMUT
On my taking over as Chairman, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), I started keeping a keen eye on the revenue intake, the leakages and the shortfalls. One area that immediately caught my attention was electricity supply. To my horror I found one major block not paying were Members of Parliament, those in office and some who had retired but were hanging on to the bungalows. Despite umpteen notices this power group never bothered to respond. We sent fresh notices and corresponded with the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats notifying that in case of non-payment electric supply will be disconnected. The MPs said they would pay only if the surcharge was removed. Past experience showed that they don’t pay despite waiving off of the surcharge. The NDMC refused waiver of the surcharge and started disconnection with a batch of 10 MPs.
Thereafter, the MPs started threatening me individually and severally with imprisonment through the Privileges Committee and five other parliamentary committees. At this juncture I took advantage of a PIL in the Delhi High Court precisely on the subject of non-payment by MPs to the NDMC, MTNL and ITDC. Due to certain coincidences I had come to know some Supreme Court and High Court judges personally. However, I was in two minds whether to take the judges into confidence as it could lead to contempt of court. I decided to take courage in my hands and privately met both the judges in the double bench in the High Court who were hearing the PIL. I told them about the MPs threat to me if I did not succumb to their demands. I requested them to take up the hearing on a regular basis and berate the NDMC for not taking more vigorous action so that it would enable me to go on disconnecting power to defaulting MPs
My final request was that in case I was sentenced by the Privileges Committee to imprisonment I would seek a stay from the High Court.
They were surprised by my unusual request but readily agreed. The High Court asked NDMC if under the law the MPs were a separate category and therefore exempt from payment. They wanted a response in 15 days.
I sent the High Court’s queries to the Speaker Lok Sabha and the Chairman Rajya Sabha and as expected got no response. We continued disconnection against 10/15 MPs at one go, the number ultimately coming to about 200. The final action was disconnection of ten lines just before the budget session. This angered the MPs even more who then moved a Privileges motion against me. The Speaker, annoyed, wanted the power to be restored immediately. I insisted that I would do so for 15 days only if he took a meeting and sorted the matter out.
An interesting side drama was that 4/5 MPs whose power had been disconnected started illegally tapping directly from the street poles. I wrote to the Speaker Lok Sabha seeking his permission for filling FIRs against the MPs for violation of law. I got no response but the uproar against me increased.
Finally, the Speaker agreed and called a meeting to which he invited the then Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Home Ministry, Ministers of Urban Development and Power. About 20 MPs whose power had been disconnected were also called to the meeting, presumably to browbeat me. The Speaker asked me to explain the background. I explained that consumers receive power under the Indian Electricity Act and the NDMC Act, both Acts of Parliament. No exemption on non-payment had been permitted to any class of consumers including MPs. Therefore, under the Law, the NDMC was duty bound to collect monies for services provided. The only way I could accept non-payment was if the Speaker specifically declared that no respect be given to laws enacted by Parliament. Some of the defaulting MPs present started attacking me verbally stating that I was taking the cover of the High Court for defaming MPs.
The tense situation was, however, diffused when, the Dy PM in charge of Home Ministry supported me and said that the Chairman NDMC held the office under law and should not be expected not to uphold law. There was a BJP MP in the meeting who was berated by Mr. Advani that as a five term MP he himself had always paid his electricity dues and what bewailed him that he reflected so poorly on the Party by becoming a defaulter. Thereafter the Speaker and the Ministers decided to compensate the NDMC from the Parliament Secretariat funds by enhancing the budget suitably and the matter came to fruition.
In course of all this, his whole matter spanning a year, some lessons were learnt. Firstly, that all MPs from CPI and CPM paid their dues on time, only a few BJP MPs were in the defaulters list; and most defaulters were from the Congress, Janta Dal and Samajwadi Party, reflecting the internal discipline of the parties. There were at least 20 heavy weight ex Cabinet Ministers, some ex Chief Ministers and ex-Prime Ministers in the list. Secondly, that most MPs are also allotted a second house for their guests and non-payment is largely for the second house, many of which were rented out. Thirdly, as seen from the Dy PM’s observation, there are many politicians from whom you get support when you take bonsfide action. Finally, in select cases even the Judiciary can be supportive.