Madras HC warns State against wastage of taxpayer money

Madras HC warns State against wastage of taxpayer money

Meera Emmanuel

The expenditure of Rs. 400 crore for a Secretariat building and an additional Rs. 5 crore for an inquiry commission – only to have the building eventually become a hospital and the inquiry commission defunct – has prompted the Madras High Court to express its censure against the wastage of taxpayer money.

Justice SM Subramaniam observed that the exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money spent on the building itself entailed a national waste. As noted in his order,

It is relevant to point out that a building for new secretariat was constructed by spending the tax payers money to the tune of about Rs 400 Crores. However, the Government took the decision not to use the building for new secretariat and converted the same as a multi-specialty hospital. The taxpayers’ money spent on beautification and for other facilities for the construction of new secretariat became a national waste. Even for conversion of the new secretariat building to a specialty hospital another few crores of rupees were spent by the State.

The observation was made while dismissing as withdrawn petitions filed against the inquiry commission tasked with probing alleged irregularities in the construction of a Secretariat complex during the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party’s regime.

The inquiry commission had failed to yield any tangible results, prompting the Court to order its suspension in August this year. While disposing of the matter yesterday, the Court observed that the prolonged maintenance of the defunct commission on taxpayer money was also a matter of painful and national concern.

“The Commission of Enquiry was appointed and it was nonfunctional for about three years. The Commission of enquiry also spent an amount of about 4 ½ crores and the reports are not submitted even at the time when the writ petitions were heard by this Court. Ultimately nearly about 5 crores were spent for the Enquiry Commission. However, nothing became useful for the welfare of the State as well as in the interest of the public at large…

…Such a situation is not only painful but certainly a national concern about the spending of taxpayers money detrimental to the interest of the public at large.

The last commission head, Justice R Reghupathi, formally demitted his position last August. The files pertaining to the probe have now been transferred to the Vigilance Department, which is expected to take a call on whether any further action is required. The petitioners, therefore, withdrew their petitions since the cause had become infructuous.

However, before parting with the matter, Justice Subramaniam also emphasised that all governments, regardless of political ideology, must keep in mind principles of responsible spending and equitable distribution of wealth in framing and implementing state policies. He observed,

This Court is of the considered opinion that once the elected Government started functioning and governing the State their action, policy decision and expenditure must be beyond its political ideologies and beyond any pale of doubt. All such expenditures must be only in accordance with the constitutional principles and the interest of the public at large…

…The power under the Constitution is provided to the Administrators only to protect the taxpayers money and spend the same judiciously and for the welfare of the people at large and following the procedures contemplated under the Statutes as the State is the custodian. The Government is not only responsible but also accountable.

Any unlawful loss caused in respect of the taxpayers’ money will not only be questioned and actions are to be initiated and the persons liable are to be certainly prosecuted under the Penal Laws.”

In light of these observations, the judge also called on the Vigilance Department to ensure that any further action is carried out without any undue delay on its part.

Read the order:

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