In the last fiscal year, several ministers had revealed possessing large amounts of cash in hand, with Arun Jaitley topping the list at Rs 65 lakh.
Since the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes was announced by Narendra Modi on November 8, what have the prime minister, who possessed Rs 89,000 in cash as of March 31, and finance minister Arun Jaitley, who had a sum of Rs 65 lakhs with him, done with their cash?
With section 75A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 making it necessary for the members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and all the ministers to disclose ‘cash in hand’, bank deposits and other movable and immovable properties, a Delhi-based RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak has demanded to know how our ministers have been depositing their cash post demonetisation.
“Every citizen who has stood for hours before banks to either deposit the old currency notes in their accounts or exchange them for the new ones has the right to know when and where did the ministers deposit the small and large sums of cash they held in their bank accounts,” said Nayak, a programme coordinator with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Moved by the media reports of “several unfortunate incidents of citizens dying while standing in serpentine queues”, Nayak decided to raise this pertinent question despite knowing that the answer to it may never be revealed.
The reason behind it, as he told The Wire, is that “Technically under the code of conduct applicable for ministers and also the rules for MPs it is an annual exercise and so their next submission is only due in 2017.”
Acknowledging the fact that as of now no one can force the ministers or members of parliament to reveal information about their cash deposits, he said, “that is the reason why we are using that hook which the prime minister provided by stating that all the BJP MPs should declare their transactions to the party president. So I would be waiting for some weeks to pass by and then we will be filing an RTI directly with the BJP reminding them about the June 2013 order and stating that please disclose all these statements that you have received.”
Doing so would not be new for Nayak who is an expert in using RTI for extracting vital information on governance and transparency issues. “I have in the past already done that in [the] case of the BJP’s West Bengal unit, which had stated that they had received all the cash payments against receipts and that the receipts are available for verification. So I said let me verify them. It was not that they were going to give them to me but it just helped us to take further steps to get them to comply with the CIC [Central Information Commission] order.”
He added that in the current scenario, “By March 31, 2017, the MPs and ministers would be required to disclose the cash in hand. It would only be a similar figure as they did in March 2016 – how much assets do they have, how much liabilities do they owe but the cash in hand will only be a component of how much they deposited or withdrew. There won’t be a timeline to it, pre or post November 8, unless they amend the rules. So we may never come to know how much they actually exchanged after the demonetisation exercise began.”
But once the current exercise of depositing old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes ends, this information is more likely to be revealed through the BJP headquarters instead.
Like most ordinary citizens, what Nayak is most interested in knowing is whether the ministers ever stood in queues like the common citizen – whom they have sworn to serve – to deposit their demonetised currency notes, or whether they sent their peons, relatives or someone else to make the transaction?
Another interesting question to which Nayak is seeking an answer is whether or not the income tax authorities would view these ministers, especially those depositing over Rs 2.5 lakh in cash, with some degree of suspicion.