As reported by Krishnadas Rajagopal in on 7 March 2008: :: CIC flays former MP for unpaid phone bills

CIC flays former MP for unpaid phone bills

New Delhi, March 6: The Central Information Commission has pulled up a former Congress MP for a 10-year delay in paying his official telephone dues, running to nearly Rs 4 lakh.

Anand Ahirwar, who was MP from Sagar constituency in Madhya Pradesh between 1991 and 1996, had refused to pay his BSNL bills of Rs 3,96,984 on the main pretext that his call records were not “genuine”.

Despite a Bombay High Court order in August 1999, directing the telephone department to recover his dues by appointing an Arbitrator, the MP, in an effort to further delay the payment, approached the CIC, seeking complete access to his telephone records.

Noting that the former MP was seeking information just to bide time, Information Commissioner M M Ansari “advised” Ahirwar that he “should have paid the bills at least to the extent he believes the bills are genuine”. The Commission criticised the politician for not making “partial or full payment of user charges for the last 10 years or so, causing revenue loss to the BSNL.”

“Beneficiaries of the services provided by BSNL should not be encouraged to delay payment of dues on one pretext or the other,” the Commission noted. “In the garb of seeking information, there is no justification for delaying payment of the entire user charges as made out by BSNL,” it said.

According to the MP, he was not satisfied with the “incomplete and misleading information” or lack of genuineness of the records (supplied to him by the BSNL under the RTI). Hence, he had pleaded before the Commission for “access to complete records, especially telephone bills on the basis of which the total payable dues have been calculated”.

In their response, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) and General Manager (Administration), BSNL (Bhopal) said that Ahirwar had furnished an undertaking to pay for calls that exceed the quota of free calls.

“Accordingly, telephone bills of excessive calls were issued to him regularly. However, he did not pay the amount of these bills. Many reminders were issued to him in this regard,” the CPIO told the CIC.

The MP was allotted two telephones — one in Delhi and the other in his constituency. One lakh free local calls were permissible per annum on the two telephones together, as per the rules under the Salary and Allowances of Members of Parliament Act, 1954. Trunk call bills were adjusted within the monetary equivalent of the ceiling of one lakh local calls. Members whose constituencies are 1,000 km away from Delhi, however, are allowed 20,000 additional free local calls. The Arbitrator had on March 20, 2003 found truth in the claim of the telephone department and directed Ahirwar to pay up his dues within three weeks.

Ahirwar’s subsequent plea that his dues be recovered from his ex-MP’s pension (a minimum of Rs 3,000) was not acceded to by the department, which found the pension amount “very meagre”, the CPIO had told the CIC.

“The appellant (Ahirwar) is unnecessarily dragging the issue and depriving BSNL of its revenue — a loss to the national exchequer,” the CPIO told the CIC, adding that a recovery procedure of the dues was pending in a fast-track court at the former MP’s constituency, Sagar.