Delhi Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena has directed the chief secretary to recover Rs 97 crore from the Aam Aadmi Party for political advertisements it published in the guise of government advertisements in 2016, official sources said on Tuesday.
The development comes days after the AAP wrested power from the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi polls.
The AAP alleged that the LG gave the order on the saffron party's directions and claimed that Saxena has no power to issue such a directive.
The opposition BJP in Delhi welcomed the LG's directions and claimed that the amount to be recovered from the ruling party will rise to Rs 400 crore.
At a press conference held in Delhi, Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri alleged an "advertisement scam" and demanded a CBI inquiry into it.
The LG in his orders to the chief secretary also directed that all advertisements since September 2016 be referred to the Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA), set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for vetting and ascertaining if they are in consonance with Supreme Court guidelines.
The Delhi government's Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP), acting on a 2016 directive from the CCRGA, had notified that Rs 97.14 crore (Rs 97,14,69,137) had been spent or booked on account of "non-conforming advertisements", the sources said.
"Of this, while payments amounting to over Rs 42.26 crore had already been released by the DIP, Rs 54.87 crore for advertisements published were still pending disbursal," a source said.
Asked to recover the amount, the DIP had in 2017 directed the AAP to pay over Rs 42.26 crore to the state exchequer immediately and directly pay the pending amount of Rs 54.87 crore to the advertising agencies or publications concerned within 30 days, the sources said.
"However, even after the lapse of five years and eight months, the AAP has not complied with the DIP order. Such defiance of a legitimate order by a registered political party is not only contemptuous of the judiciary, but also does not augur well for the health of good governance," the source added.
The Directorate of Vigilance (DoV) also inquired into complaints and found that not only did the DIP not recover amounts worth Rs 42.26 crore but it also proactively paid the pending amount of Rs 54.87 crore, rather than getting the AAP to pay it, a source said. "In eight cases, payment of Rs 20.53 crore was made, falsely attributing it to court/arbitration orders."
The DoV found that Deputy Chief Manish Sisodia had approved the payment of another Rs 27 crore (approximately) by entering into fraudulent "compromise deed or settlement", despite the fact that there was no litigation nor there were any directions from the Supreme Court or the Delhi High Court, the source claimed.
The DoV also said that such advertisements that are "prima facie and blatantly violative of the Supreme Court order" have been continuously issued by the DIP on direction of the ministers.
Citing an example, it said that the entire cost for the bio-decomposer project was Rs 41.62 lakh but the expenditure incurred for advertising it was Rs 16.94 crore, which is 40 times higher than the project cost.
The DoV also called it a 'grossly illegal move' by the AAP dispensation to put in place a committee of its own to look into violations of the Supreme Court guidelines.
Former LG Anil Baijal too had dismissed the constitution of the committee.
LG Saxena has even asked that the money spent on functioning of the committee be recovered.
"He has additionally asked for Shabdarth – the public agency formed by the Kejriwal government currently manned by 35 individuals on contractual or outsourced basis – to be manned by government servants instead. The finances of Shabdarth ever since it came into being shall also be audited," the source added.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had postulated guidelines to regulate government advertising and eliminate unproductive expenditure. Following this, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting formed the three-member Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA) in 2016.
The CCRGA investigated advertisements published by the DIP and issued an order in September 2016, identifying those which were in "stark violation of the guidelines" set by the apex court.
Addressing a press conference here, AAP chief spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj, however, termed the LG's direction a "new love letter" and said that as Valentine's Day nears, the frequency of such love letters is only going to increase.
"The BJP is flustered that we have become a national party and wrested power from it in the MCD. LG sahab is doing everything in accordance with the BJP's directions and that is troubling the people of Delhi. The more worried Delhi's people are, the happier the BJP gets," Bhardwaj claimed.
He further said that the LG's directions would not stand in the eyes of law.
"The Delhi LG has no such power. He cannot issue such directions... The BJP's various state governments issued advertisements that have been published here. We want to ask when will the Rs 22,000 crore spent on the advertisements be recovered from them? The day that money is recovered, we will also give Rs 97 crore," the AAP leader said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal termed the LG's order "wrong" and said it will be challenged in court.
Even in 2017, the then Delhi LG Anil Baijal had directed the then Chief Secretary M M Kutty to recover Rs 97 crore from the AAP that was allegedly "splurged" by the Delhi government on advertisements in violation of Supreme Court guidelines.