New Delhi: The explanation that chief election commissioner A.K. Joti has provided to the Times of India in response to The Wire’s story on the retention of Gujarat government accommodation by him in Ahmedabad even after he had moved to the Election Commission in Delhi does not square with the official paper trail.
The Wire story noted the possible conflict of interest involved in an individual holding a critical constitutional position being obliged to a state government or political party for his personal accommodation.
“I was allocated a house in Delhi only after one year of being appointed in the EC. I requested the Gujarat government to allow me to keep possession of the house in the Dafnala area of Ahmedabad as I could not have lived with my wife for a year in Delhi’s Gujarat Bhavan. I have paid the rent as per Gujarat government norms,” he told the Times of India on Sunday.
Joti was appointed to the Election Commission of India in May 2015, and his statement above suggests he applied to the Gujarat government and received permission to retain his bungalow soon thereafter, paying the appropriate rent as it fell due as well.
The date on which he made this request and to which department he had directed it is not known. What is known is that his application evidently did not reach the Roads and Building department which deals with such matters for nearly a year.
Official government documents with The Wire clearly note that as late as April 2016 – 11 months after joining the EC – Joti had not formally requested permission to keep the Ahmedabad house and that whatever rent he paid during this period was less than official norms since a decision on “recovery” was being mooted by the R&B department.
In a letter dated April 1, 2016, state government officials wrote that Joti had stayed on in the Dufnala bungalow for nearly a year, that “he has continued the occupation of the above-mentioned bungalow without making any representation,” and that the Accommodation Allotment Committee needed to decide “the rate at which the rent should be recovered from Shri Joti with effect from 12/05/2015.” (emphasis added)
As reported earlier, two letters from the Gujarat government’s R&B department – as annexed with senior police officer Satish Chandra Verma’s appeal in a housing matter at the Central Administrative Tribunal, Guwahati bench – indicate that at least as per the knowledge of the department which looks after official housing in Gujarat was concerned, Joti made his first “representation” to the state government seeking permission to retain his house only on June 9, 2016. This was more than a year after he was appointed an election commissioner.
He evidently did that only after Gujarat government engineers, while examining a letter from the Gujarat Vigilance Commission – the contents of which are unknown to The Wire – informed higher officials in the R&B department that he had not sought any permission to continue staying in the house.
“Since 12/05/2015 Shri Joti has taken over as the Chief Election Commissioner at Delhi. And he has continued the occupation of the above-mentioned bungalow without making any representation,” said the letter signed by the superintending engineer, City (R &B) circle and Chief Engineer on April 1, 2016.
Acting on this, the additional secretary (R &B) on 2 April, 2016 ordered, “He has continued the house. So may be directed to produce the copy of correspondence after 12/05/2015.”
A case of vendetta?
A corresponding letter, signed by the secretary, R&B, additional chief secretary, general administration department, additional chief secretary, finance department, along with the three above-mentioned officials, on July 16, 2016, states that Joti was given a notice to vacate the house on June 3, 2016. It added that Joti has already paid the rent of the bungalow “at flat rate till 30/06/2016.”
The letter goes on to say, as was mentioned in The Wire story earlier that Joti made his “representation” only on June 9, 2016. During which he requested Gujarat government to let him retain the house because his wife had undergone knee surgeries and needed to visit the Ahmedabad-based hospital frequently.
Joti told the Times of India that he vacated the Ahmedabad house in October 2016, but his clarifications still leave many questions unclear about his own actions and those of the Gujarat government. For Verma, who has submitted the papers pertaining to Joti’s housing to the CAT, the Gujarat government’s decision to allow the CEC to retain the Ahmedabad bungalow and allow him to pay pending rent once it was noticed that he had not vacated his house, smacks of favouritism. Verma, who is a Gujarat cadre police officer sent on deputation to the north-east, had also sought permission to stay in his government accommodation on grounds similar to what Joti eventually raised but was asked to immediately vacate his house.
Joti did not respond to queries put to him by The Wire prior to the story’s publication on Sunday. Following the publication in the Times of India of his explanation for the retention of the bungalow, a further set of questions was emailed to him on Monday evening:
- When and to which department/official did you first request permission to retain the Dufnala bungalow? Can we get a copy of the letter?
- What was the period for which you requested permission to retain the bungalow?
- Were you informed by the EC or any other department/ministry/office in Delhi that official accommodation for you as an election commissioner would not be available for at least one year. If so, who informed you of this and when?
- What is the flat rate of rent the R&B department levied from you for the period May 2015 to October 2016? Did the R&B department recover any additional arrears for the period May 2015 to June 2016, after you had made your June 2016 representation?
- Why did you not think it was necessary to seek permission from the Gujarat government to retain your bungalow until you were served a notice in April, 2016?
Till the time of publication on Wednesday at 1:30 pm, no reply has been received despite his secretary confirming that the email has been received. This story will be updated with Joti’s answers when he sends them.