In the petition of famous RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Lok Sabha Secretariat confirmed that in the tenure of Meira Kumar as the Speaker, six documentaries were produced on Babu Jagjivan Ram while other personalities were given one each. The RTI was filed by Agrawal via letter no. 1(815)/IC/12. The documentaries which were produced for Lok Sabha TV also included the likes of BR Ambedkar, GV Mavalankar, Sardar Hukum Singh, and on the relation of Obama-King-Gandhi. However, during 2009-12 as Agrawal has shown sidelining every other leader, Meira Kumar ensured that Lok Sabha TV produced six documentaries on his father Babu Jagjivan Ram alone.
The charges of treating public goods such as parliamentary broadcaster for one’s own agenda are on display here. It doesn’t stops then. Another controversy which is leveled is of the residence of Meira Kumar on 6, Krishna Menon Marg. This luxurious bungalow at one of the most expensive real states of New Delhi has been called ‘Babu Jagjivan Ram Smriti Sansthan’. On being asked by Agrawal in a RTI petition whether union government has officially allotted and/or named the bungalow as such, Lok Sabha secretariat in 2012 merely suggested that the question has been forwarded to Ministry of Urban Development.
The last official occupant of the bungalow where Babu Jagjivan Ram lived for long after he died in 1986 was Meira Kumar after she became Union minister in UPA-1 government in 2004.
However, after she became Lok Sabha Speaker in 2009 in the UPA-2 regime and moved to the Speaker’s residence at 20, Akbar Road, she continued to occupy the Krishna Menon Marg bungalow. This has been shown by records kept by CPWD which is responsible for maintenance of government property. Agrawal‘s petition showed that between 2009 and 2013 also, the bungalow was allotted to Kumar even though Directorate of Estates (DoE) showed that there was no claimants. Moreover, the rent bill of 1.98 crore rupees which was sent to Kumar for the bungalow was waved off by UPA. The bungalow was given to Kumar almost free of cost by DoE at the behest of UPA government from August 2, 2013 till July 1, 2038 to run a foundation named after her father. This certainly meant incurring heavy revenue loss by giving away the rental value of the bungalow.
Public corrupted for ‘Personal’
RTI responses to Agrawal’s petition reveal that Meira Kumar used her ministerial position as Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment for setting up Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation (BJRNF) from funds available from her ministry. This is the same foundation for which she was allotted the above said bungalow by DoE on UPA government’s behest.
The main task of the foundation is only to organise birth and death anniversaries of her late father Babu Jagjivan Ram on 5th April and 6th July annually. Such commemorations and setting up of new memorials for the departed leaders in Lutyen’s Delhi on public cost was de-regularised and restricted by a cabinet notification in 2000. Even the allotment of Type-VIII bungalows to the foundation for setting up a memorial is in a contradiction to the said cabinet notification. The said notification came into being on 16th August, 2000 and it imposed a total ban on the conversion of government bungalows into the memorials of departed leaders. But Meira Kumar bypassed all the norms and notifications, thanks to her influence and corrupted the public law and procedure for mooting personal benefits.
One more instance of again a reply to Agrawal’s petition suggest, State Bank of India flouted banking-rules when it reversed a credit- entry from an account of the account- holder on unlawful directions of Lok Sabha Secretariat when Meira Kumar was caretaker Speaker of Lok Sabha before May, 2014. Kumar again used her influence to lead the biggest public bank in going against the norms. The information was confirmed through appeal no. CIC /CC /A /2014 /00420 /SB.
It goes on. Meira Kumar in the background led the Lok Sabha Secretariat to limit the tenure of Lok Sabha TV CEO Rajiv Mishra till May 31’ in 2014 soon before the first session of 16th Lok Sabha had to commence. Mishra acknowledges in an Indian Express report (1st June, 2014) that Kumar was annoyed with him after the channel flashed the news of her losing from Sasaram on 16th May, 2014. Reportedly, Kumar was also annoyed by a telecast called Janadesh on LSTV which she believed carried more anti-UPA voices as experts.
Is there a moral credence?
Now since Kumar has been aspiring to become the official occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, is she going to continue the same agenda of misappropriating public goods and norms for personal gains? Harnessing power for one’s familial interests is a part of the political culture manufactured by the Congress party since independence in which Kumar is comfortably integrated. However, when she aspires to be the head of the state of India and thus the moral leader of her people, we must interrogate her morality in public conduct.
The above cases of appropriating a distinguished public office for personal gains are a bad precedence. Actually they call for a thorough investigation by the government of the day and punish the culprits who mishandled the norms and procedures for their personal benefits. Ironically, Kumar is going to file the nomination for the candidacy of the President of India. Is this impotency of the law has become the fate of our politics? A person who has committed such misdeeds and evidence is available against her in public domain turns out to be the candidate of a fragile opposition for the highest office in the country.
It certainly creates a conflict between how our public leaders, here Meira Kumar, conceive the personal and the public. One really hopes that people don’t forget this when they seem to be equally enthusiastic about an election this time in which their representatives vote, they don’t.
Nishant Azad andShaan Kashyap
(Nishant Kr Azad is a senior Journalist and Shaan Kashyap has studied Modern Study at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)