Even though the Delhi Government led by AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal rules over one of the smaller territories in the country, it hasn’t prevented them from creating large controversies at almost regular intervals.
Only last week we had reported how they were put in the dock by Delhi’s LG (Lieutenant Governor) for misusing the Delhi taxpayers’ money while putting out advertisements. Now there is a new controversy of misusing taxpayers’ money.
As reported by news portal KhabarE, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wants the Delhi taxpayers to pay the legal expenses incurred by him, arguably in a personal capacity, for fighting the defamation case filed by BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
In case, you haven’t followed the controversy, here is a summary:
Q: What is this whole issue about?
Ans: BJP leader Arun Jaitley, in December 2015, had filed a defamation case against Kejriwal and 5 others for what he claimed were false allegations regarding his alleged role in certain irregularities in the DDCA (Delhi & District Cricket Association). Jaitley sought compensation of 10 crore rupees due to damages caused by alleged defamatory statements by Kejriwal.
In the court, Kejriwal was represented by noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani. Jethmalani, in some media interviews, had claimed that he will fight the case for free, charging a token money of just one rupee, even though his professional fees are pretty high.
However, documents available with some in media reveal that so far Jethmalani has billed Kejriwal a whopping Rs 3.42 crores. Out of these, Rs 1.22 crores have been directed to be paid from the exchequer of Delhi government:
— Khabare (@khabareonline) April 3, 2017
Q: So what is wrong in it?
Ans: Arun Jaitley had filed the defamation against Kejriwal in a personal capacity and thus many experts argue that Kejriwal should defend the case in personal capacity too, because the case has been filed against the individual and not the Delhi Chief Minister. Kejriwal is understood to have issued those statements in capacity of a politician, not as a public officer.
Though having said that, legal experts believe that invoking section 80 of the Civil Procedure Code would have allowed Kejriwal to turn this into a matter involving the Delhi CM, which he didn’t do.
Documents with the media further suggest that on 21st December 2016, Manish Sisodia, the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, had directed the General Administration Dept led by Gopal Rai to pay the legal bills as and when Ram Jethmalani sent them. Curiously in the letter, Sisodia also mentioned that this concerned file need not be sent to the LG for approval. This is being interpreted as a fear that the LG might have rejected the proposal as they were in contravention of rules.
Q: Why had Jaitley filed a defamation case against Kejriwal?
Ans: Kejriwal and his fellow party members had alleged that for the 13 years, when Jaitley was the chief of the DDCA, the body was involved in irregularities. Jaitley was accused by AAP leaders of directly or indirectly giving consent to massive corruption in the cricket body.
They alleged that additional expenditure of Rs 90 crore was incurred on renovating the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium and that fake companies were setup by DDCA officials to siphon off money. They also alleged that there were irregularities even in team selection by the DDCA like forging age certificates and that players selected were of Jaitley’s personal choice. Jaitley had received support from cricketers like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and Virat Kohli at that time, however Kejriwal continued to claim corruption and irregularities.
All this irked Jaitley, and Kejriwal and others were put on trial on 25th March this year in a criminal defamation case. Ram Jethmalani had asked some rather ridiculous questions to Arun Jaitley as part of the proceedings, about which we had earlier reported.
Q: What is Ram Jethmalani’s response to this controversy?
Ans: Ram Jethmalani had claimed that he only charges the rich and works for free for the poor, though he had also claimed that he will be working pro-bono for Kejriwal. He doesn’t appear to have clarified when did his plan of offering his services free of cost change (leading him to send the bills to Kejriwal), but now he is saying that he can still offer his services free of cost:
Even now if govt (Delhi) doesn’t pay or he can’t pay will appear for free,will treat him(Kejriwal) as one of my poor clients: Ram Jethmalani pic.twitter.com/YwT9OdwiOI
— ANI (@ANI_news) April 4, 2017
Interestingly as Jethmalani says he will ‘appear’ for free it raises the question about what will happen to his retainer fees of 1 crore rupees. Does it mean that he expects at least one crore to be paid?
Q: If Arvind Kejriwal loses the cases and he has to pay Jaitey 10 crores, would he make the Delhi taxpayers pay it too?
Ans: Very good question. Maybe yes, given how the Delhi government is justifying paying the current legal fee from the state exchequer.