New Delhi | The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Congress in Uttar Pradesh to deposit Rs 1 crore as arrear towards hiring buses and taxis from UPSRTC during 1981 to 1989, when the party was in power in the state, for ferrying supporters for political rallies and visits of then prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
A bench of justices Surya Kant and KV Viswanathan issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and the UPSRTC on a plea of Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) and directed the party to deposit Rs 1 crore within four weeks.
"Meanwhile, subject to the petitioner depositing a sum of Rs 1 crores within a period of four weeks, without prejudice to the rights of both parties, the further recovery of the amount shall remain stayed," the bench ordered.
Senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for the Congress, said the petitioner is assailing the findings of the high court as the total amount of Rs 2.68 crore is disputed.
Justice Kant said, "To contest the amount, if you file a civil suit, it will take another 20-30 years for adjudication. Then there will be first appeal, second appeal and other proceedings after the decree. Instead, we are thinking of appointing an arbitrator to determine the actual liability of the petitioner."
Khurshid agreed to the suggestion of the bench.
The bench further said that to establish the bona fide, it will direct the UPCC to deposit a certain amount of the total outstanding and proceeded to order for deposit of Rs 1 crore.
After the order was dictated, Khurshid requested the bench to reduce the amount to be deposited and increase the time period of four weeks.
"We were initially thinking of ordering for a deposit of half the amount but then we thought Rs 1 crore will be enough to establish the bona fide," the bench said.
The UPCC had challenged the October 5, 2023 order of Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court passed in a writ petition filed in 1998 challenging the recovery notice issued by Tehsildar, Sadar, Lucknow.
The proceedings were initiated at the instance of the managing director of Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) which claimed that an amount of Rs.2,68,29,879.78 is due on the UPCC and it is entitled to recover.
The high court has referred to various communications and bills and noted a letter dated April 2, 1981 of UPSRTC which showed that a bill of over Rs. 6.21 lakh was raised for 'kisan' rally organized by Uttar Pradesh Congress on February 16, 1981 and similarly another communication dated December 16, 1984 shows that a bill of Rs 8.69 lakh is due for providing vehicles for ferrying people to pay homage on November 19, 1984 to the ashes of late prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The high court has directed UPCC to pay to the respondents UPSRTC entire due of Rs.2.66 crore along with an interest of 5 per cent from the date it is due within a period of three months.
"In the present case, the political party in power had exercised its dominant position and utilized public property for its political purposes. The bills were raised to the petitioner political party but it ignored to pay the same and, while the earlier dues were pending, again being in power it availed facilities from the respondent UPSRTC without paying its dues," the high court has said.
It had said that merely by stating that after change of government, due to political vendetta the amount is wrongly being recovered or taking a technical ground that amount cannot be recovered as arrears of land revenue, it can not be granted liberty to escape its liability to pay its bills.
"There is no doubt that the question of recovery of public money is involved in the present case, which is used for political purposes by the petitioner, therefore, petitioner is bound to pay the said amount. The amount is pending for around 25-30 years and is not cleared by the petitioner as yet," it had said.
The UPCC had initially taken a ground before the high court that the amount cannot be recovered under Section 3 of the U.P. Public Moneys (Recovery of Dues) Act, 1972, as there is no agreement relating to any loan to be recovered as land revenue or advance or grant or relating to credit in respect of, or relating to higher purchase of goods sold to petitioner by UPSRTC which would empower the corporation to recover the said sum under the 1972 law.
It had said that the amount was being recovered as political vendetta and with a view to bring the petitioner under political pressure.
In 2003, the Congress has denied before the high court to have ever hired bus, taxi or any vehicle from the UPSRTC as claimed and said that whenever it has applied for hiring any vehicle from the opposite parties, it has been after following due process of requisitioning and payments have been made as per rules.
The corporation as well as Uttar Pradesh government in its affidavit before the high court had claimed that between the years 1981 and 1989, vehicles in the nature of buses, taxi etc. were provided to the petitioner party by UPSRTC, on directions of then chief minister and minister concerned, who all belonged to Congress, for which bills were regularly raised and were liable to be paid by petitioner.
Former prime minister VP Singh, when in Congress was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from June 9, 1980 till July 19, 1982. Late veteran Congress leader ND Tiwari was chief minister twice between 1984 and 1989.