New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up Delhi's AAP government for the "breach" of undertaking given to it to provide funds for the regional rapid transit system (RRTS) project and directed that the state government's fund meant for advertisement be transferred for the project. However, the apex court put its order in abeyance for a week saying that the order would come into force if the Delhi government did not provide the required funds for the project.
A bench comprising justices S K Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted that the three-year budget provision for advertisements is Rs 1100 crore and the budget for the current financial year is almost Rs 550 crore.
Justice Kaul said the budgetary provision is something which the state government should see and for national projects, like RRTS, to be implemented, the money should be diverted from the advertisements to the project.
“We would have been inclined to transfer those funds to the project. However, at the last hearing on July 24, Dr A M Singhvi (counsel for Delhi government) had assured that funds would be made available. We are thus constrained to direct that funds allocated for advertising purposes be transferred to the project in question”, said Justice Kaul.
The bench further added that at the request of counsel, representing the Delhi government, the court will keep this order in abeyance for a period of one week and if funds are not transferred the order will come into operation. Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, representing the Delhi government, urged the court to allow her to come back to it on the issue. Justice Kaul made it clear that there is no back and forth. Arora said at one go to release that allocation of funds is difficult. Justice Kaul said the Delhi government knew it beforehand.
The apex court said it will list the matter after a week to see what the Delhi government has done and scheduled the matter for further hearing on November 28. “Despite assurances, this is only if states will listen then we have to adopt this only way of doing it…you did not even come to seek an extension. You did not even move an application saying I cannot do it in two months, I will do it in three months. No such application, cannot be taken for granted (this court)….”, said Justice Kaul.
On July 24, after a nudge from the Supreme Court, the Delhi government agreed to provide funds for regional rapid transit system (RRTS) projects for Delhi-Alwar and Delhi-Panipat corridors and said it would release the first instalment of Rs 415 crore within two months. The state government also informed the top court that it has spent Rs 1073.16 crore on advertisements in the last three financial years.
The RRTS project consists of semi-high-speed rail corridors connecting Delhi to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, Alwar in Rajasthan, and Panipat in Haryana. During the hearing, the top court had told counsel, representing the Delhi government, “We were constrained to pass the last order only on account of the NCT government throwing its hands (up) to contribute to the project”. Delhi government counsel had made submissions regarding the budgetary allocation made towards advertisements in the last three years.
The apex court had said if Rs 1,100 crore budget can be spent on advertising in the last three financial years, then the state government can certainly contribute towards infrastructure projects. The bench had said, “Your one-year advertising budget is more than what you are giving for the project…..”. The state government counsel had submitted before the court that payment would be made towards the project and urged the court to permit his client to contribute in instalments spread over a reasonable period of time. The National Capital Region Transport Corporation (NCRTC) is executing the project, which is a joint venture between the Centre and the state governments concerned.
In an affidavit, the Delhi government said the funds utilised for advertisement by the Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP), GNCTD from the DIP budget and other departments/ autonomous bodies/ organization etc is Rs 1073.16 crore. The state government submitted the three-year break before the court – in 2021-21, By DIP from DIP budget 293.2 crore, other department/organization/ autonomous bodies etc. of GNCTD beyond DIP budget 3.69 crore; for 2021-22, it is 579.91 crore; and, 2022-23, it 196.36 crore.
The state government said: “This Hon'ble Court may kindly appreciate that the expenditure as above is a necessary component of good governance and effective administration. The funds allocated for publicity purposes are aimed at maximizing the reach and impact of government policies, ultimately benefiting the public at large……”.