The Delhi High Court today agreed to examine the validity of a Centre-appointed panel’s report recommending that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) be made to pay an amount of Rs 97 crore that the Delhi government had spent on advertisements.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva issued a notice to the Centre, the Delhi government, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and Congress leader Ajay Maken seeking their stand on the AAP plea against the report of the three-member committee, set up to regulate government advertising.
“If the report goes, everything goes,” the court said while listing the matter for hearing on August 8.
The AAP has challenged the report, based on which the LG had ordered the recovery from the party of Rs 42 crore which the Delhi government had paid for the advertisements.
The LG had also directed that the outstanding amount of about Rs 55 crore, owed to advertising agencies, be paid by the party and not the government.
The party challenged LG Anil Baijal’s order, the demand notice and the panel’s recommendation stating that these decisions had been taken without hearing their side.
The court said since non-compliance of the notice had no legal consequences for the present, the party could refrain from paying the demanded amount.
It said if the Delhi government or LG took any action for recovering the amount, the party could then defend itself.
It asked the AAP to withdraw its application seeking an interim stay of the demand notice, which the party subsequently did.
During the arguments, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain, who appeared for the Centre and the LG, agreed that no consequence for non-compliance was mentioned in the demand notice, but “the government would not be precluded from recovering the amount”.
The ASG also claimed that the “primary objective” of the petition was to stall the recovery proceedings.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Maken, contended that the ads issued by the AAP government were in violation of the Supreme Court’s guidelines regulating government advertising.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Arvind Kejriwal’s party, argued that the AAP was not heard by the panel or the LG before the recommendation and order were issued.
He also said if the same yardstick was applied to the Bharatiya Janata Party, it would have to pay “thousands of crores (of rupees)” to the exchequer.
In its plea, the AAP sought quashing the demand notice issued on March 30 by the Delhi government’s Department of Information and Publicity on the LG’s direction.
The LG had ordered the Chief Secretary of the Delhi government to recover the amount from the AAP within a month.
The committee, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner B B Tandon, in its report of September 16 last year, had held that the Delhi government had spent the exchequer’s money on advertisements projecting Chief Minister Kejriwal and his party in violation of the SC guidelines of May 13, 2015.
( Source – PTI )