New Delhi: Mizoram chief minister LalThanhawla found himself in a controversy with a voter from his constituency, Serchhip, writing to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking action against the veteran Congress leader for “deliberately submitting a false affidavit” about his unmovable assets in the run-up to the last assembly polls.
Mizoram went to polls in end 2013 and is due for elections in the second half of 2018.
LalThanhawla, who has been the chief minister of the Northeastern state since 2008, filed the affidavit – as per the Supreme Court’s 2002 directive to the ECI for any candidate filing nomination papers to contest an election – on November 8, 2013.
In the letter to the ECI, written on November 13, Hriatrenga Chhangte, a Kolkata-based Central government employee and a native of Serchhip, said, the chief minister was allotted a plot of land in Kolkata’s New Town prior to filing the election affidavit, but didn’t disclose the property in it, thereby attracting section 125A of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. As per the section, a candidate who, either himself or through his proposer, furnishes false information in his nomination papers “which he knows or has reason to believe to be false” or “conceals any information”, has committed a crime “punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine or with both.”
Speaking to The Wire from Kolkata, Chhangte, who has been posted in the Indian Bureau of Mines since May this year, said:
After I got posted in Kolkata, I began to meet fellow Mizos residing in the city. It was in one of the social gatherings that I got to know that some leaders of the Kolkata Mizo Welfare Society had invited the chief minister visiting the city to attend a church service on a particular Sunday but was told that he had no time for it as he had to oversee the progress of the construction of his house in New Town area of Kolkata.
Though I am a permanent resident of his constituency, which he has been representing for the last 30 years, it was for the first time that I heard that he has a property in Kolkata. So, on November 3, I went looking for it in New Town in Rajarhat area and chanced upon the nearly completed house. The work supervisor, when asked, confirmed that it belongs to the CM. Thereafter, I set about looking for records of the plot and found out that the date of registration of the property in his name was August 2013. I then found out that he didn’t mention this property despite the land being registered under his name before the affidavit was filed. It led me to write to the ECI for appropriate action.
On November 10, Chhangte uploaded on Facebook the relevant land documents that he downloaded from the website of the West Bengal government’s Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (HIDCO). Almost immediately, the opposition, looking for an opportunity to take on the longest serving chief minister of the state in the run-up to the assembly elections, picked it up. On November 11, Zoram Nationalist Party (ZNP), an offshoot of the main opposition, the Mizo National Front (MNF), held a press meet in Aizawl demanding Lal Thanhawla’s resignation. Later, both MNF and its youth wing too repeated the demand at a press meet.
The state BJP, which has been trying to make a dent in the coming elections with help from local parties, demanded action against the chief minister as well. On November 3, just before the allegations against the chief minister was made public by Chhangte, the state Scheduled Tribe BJP Morcha national secretary Hayuthung Bill Lotha called the chief minister “the most corrupt chief minister in entire Northeast”.
While the ZNP had an alliance with the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2015 Aizawl Municipal Corporation elections, MNF, led by former chief minister Zoramthanga, is a part of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance.
Responding to the accusation, LalThanhawla didn’t deny owning the property but told local media that he didn’t mention it in the 2013 affidavit as the mutation of the plot took place only in 2014.
Chhangte countered, “The mutation might have happened later but registration itself signifies ownership.”
LalThanhawla had stated that the plot of land was allotted to him by former Left government minister of West Bengal, Gautam Deb, from his quota, as the chairman of West Bengal’s HIDCO. As per media reports, though the market rate of the plot was Rs 2 crore then, he got it for Rs. 17 lakh.
Interestingly, the Kolkata high court, in May 2015, struck down dozens of land allotted in early 2011 in New Town by minister Deb. The high court, upholding the decision of HIDCO to annul those allotments made under chairman’s discretion, termed Deb’s action as the “most capricious, inequitable and feudal” exercise of discretion.
I dug out the documents only because it has been in my mind that Mizoram may be a very small state but LalThanhawla, with over nine crore worth of declared assets, is the ninth richest chief ministers of the country.
As per media reports in 2013, LalThanhawla, with assets worth Rs 9.5 crore is the wealthiest chief minister of the state followed by Zoramthanga of MNF with assets valued at Rs 2.16 crore. As per the affidavits filed in the last polls, former speaker of Mizoram assembly and ZNP leader R. Lalawia was the richest candidate to file the nomination papers with assets worthy over Rs 69 crore.
It may be mentioned that in September this year, the Supreme Court took strong exception to the Central government’s “attitude” of not disclosing information on action taken by it against those politicians whose assets have seen a massive jump of up to 500 times between two elections.