BY: MANU SEBASTIAN
Alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suppressed details regarding assets owned by him in his election affidavits, a Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court today. The PIL by Saket Gokhale – a former journalist who now works as an independent consultant- alleges that Narendra Modi was the beneficiary of a questionable land allotment policy followed by Gujarat Government since 1998, whereby public lands were allotted to legislators at throwaway prices. ]
As per the petition, Modi benefited out of the policy in 2002, when he got prime land at a paltry price of Rs. 1.3 lakh in the heart of Gandhinagar City(Plot No.411,Sector 1, Gandhinagar) on October 25, 2002. This Plot No.411 was mentioned in his election affidavit in 2007, when Modi had contested in Gujarat legislative assembly elections.
The land allotment scheme had got embroiled in controversy, after the Gujarat High Court registered a suo moto case(SCA No.13550/2000) in 2000 to examine it. On November 2, 2012, the Supreme Court directed the HC to expeditiously consider the matter. The SC also ordered that no further allotment of plots under the policy should be made and no permission to transfer plots already allotted should be given without the approval of the High Court. While ordering so, the SC bench of Justices D K Jain and M B Lokur had recorded the submission of counsel for Gujarat Government Adv. Meenakshi Lekhi that no fresh allotment as per the policy has been made after 2000 and that the entire policy was being re-examined. Gokhale alleges that this submission is incorrect, as allotment to Modi was made in 2002. In the election affidavits filed by Modi after this judicial development, Plot No.411 is conspicuous by its absence, alleges Gokhale. In the affidavit filed in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and in the declaration of assets made as Prime Minister in 2015, 2016 & 2017, this plot is allegedly omitted. Instead, the affidavits declare ownership of 1/4th share of Plot No.401/A in Gandhinagar, which according to the petitioner is a “non-existent plot”.
The petitioner adds that Plot No.401 is allotted as per the government policy to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. The case in Gujarat High Court regarding the validity of the policy was not progressing as many judges recused from hearing it. This led to the matter being transferred to the Supreme Court on August 28, 2017. As per SC records, the matter was last listed on January 1, 2018. Gokhale claims on the basis of personal visits that Plot No.401 is adjacent to several other plots allotted to many BJP leaders, and all these plots form a compact plot in the prime location of Gandhinagar.
He further affirms that Plot No.411 is still in the name of Modi, as reveled by public records. “Though the said Plot Nos. 401, 403 to 411 are ostensibly in the names of different owners, the said plots have been joined together (except plot no.402) and have a single compound wall with multiple structures constructed on the said land. The petitioner verily believes that all the said plots(having a single compound) is been held/utilized/occuppied for the use and benefit of Respondent No.3(PM Modi) and are in fact his benami assets”, says the petitioner.
The petition makes reference to the Supreme Court decisions in PUCL, ADR and Lok Prahari cases which emphasised the importance of disclosure of information regarding the candidate, and held that non-disclosure of assets and sources of income would constitute a corrupt practise falling under the head “undue influence” as defined under Section 123(2) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.
“The Respondent No.3 by not giving a full and truthful disclosure about the information of his assets has created a prima facie suspicion about his probity and integrity in his public life and has violated the right of voters/citizens to make an informed choice on the basis of such information placed in the public domain..”, states the PIL, which also alleges failure on the part of Election Commission of India in taking note of the alleged suppression.
Contending that the alleged false affidavits by PM Modi violated the citizen’s right to have information about the candidate under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the PIL seeks a probe by a Special Investigation Team headed by a retired Chief Justice of India to investigate the alleged irregularities associated with Plot No.411 and also the assets and source of income of PM Modi