Dimapur | August 7
The Nagaland government splurged over Rs 14 cr on vehicular purchases in 2018 soon after the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) government was sworn in. The vehicles, purchased in April-May 2018, were meant for the newly inducted members of the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the Civil Secretariat.
As per information, released by the NLA Secretariat via the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the amount sanctioned was Rs 14,11,53,000 for a fleet of 67 vehicles. A copy of the sanction order, issued by the Finance Department, that came attached with the RTI replies stated that the sanction was for purchasing 59 units of Toyota Innova Crysta, 5 Renault Duster, 1 Toyota Fortuner, 1 Mahindra Scorpio and 1 Maruti Gypsy.
The Innovas were “to be attached to 59 MLAs, excluding the Chief Minister instead of Renault Duster approved earlier,” stated the sanction order. The RTI replies however contained the invoice for only 58 units of Innova Crysta.
The Fortuner was for the Speaker as “1st car,” the Scorpio was for the NLA Secretary and the Gypsy was for the NLA Secretariat.
Of the 5 Dusters, 2 were for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker as 3rd and 2nd car, respectively; 1 was for the Leader of Opposition as “2nd car.” The remaining 2 were for the Civil Secretariat.
The Dusters were bought from two separate sellers. Two were purchased from Guwahati at Rs 13,07,651 apiece, while the other three were purchased in Dimapur at Rs 14,13,232 apiece.
The indents were placed not long after the PDA government proclaimed “austerity measures” for cutting government expenses. To recall, the government had originally sanctioned the purchase of Renault Duster as the standard and official mode of transport for the Members of the 13th NLA.
It was later retracted after opposition NPF MLAs resented the allotment of the relatively cheaper Dusters. The demand was for allotting the top variant of the Innova Crysta. While the latter brand was costlier, they claimed that it returned lower maintenance cost in the long term. They also held that all MLAs should be treated equally whether one is in the opposition or in the ruling camp.
As per the purchase statements, the total purchase cost amounted to Rs 13,02,56,808, inclusive of GST and Compensation Cess. (See table 1)
Compensation Cess, also known as a “luxury or sin” tax in India, is imposed on motor vehicles, petroleum products, tobacco etc over and above the GST. The bigger the engine capacity, higher the ‘compensation cess’ a motor vehicle attracts.
Only for MLAs
The RTI application also sought information on how the cars allotted to legislators are disposed at the end of a term. A copy of an order issued by the Transport and Communication Department, Civil Secretariat, dated December 3, 2007, stated that the vehicles attached to the MLAs were to be “condemned and allotted” to the Members on vacating office, which is assumed to have remained unchanged till date. The order was in pursuance to decisions taken by the Cabinet on May 14 and November 15 of the same year.
It also specified the conditions for disposing of the ‘condemned’ vehicles. While it made no mention of ‘auction,’ it used terminologies found in the auction business.
It fixed the “reserved price” of the “condemned vehicles,” four years or older, at one-sixth of the “book value.” For condemned vehicles less than 4 years old, they were to be disposed at a depreciated value “at the existing formula,” it stipulated.
Generally, the book value of a car stands for the prevailing value of a used car. It essentially means how much a second-hand car would be worth if it is sold today. However, the December 3, 2007 order seemed to imply the purchase price of the 'condemned' cars, inclusive of insurance and registration fees.
Reserved price or reserve price is a jargon common to the auction business, where prospective buyers register and competitively bid for largely pre-owned items. As explained by investopedia.com, “Common to auctions, a reserve price or a reservation price is the minimum amount that a seller will accept as the winning bid.”
The RTI replies further informed that 47 condemned vehicles were allotted to as many MLAs at the end of the 13th NLA. Two were allotted to the spouses of two MLAs, who died in office.
It included 43 units of Innova Crysta, 2 Fortuner, 1 Bolero and 1 Scorpio. The proceeds amounted to Rs 1,73,77,953. (See Table 2)
Of the 47, who got the allotment, 39 re-contested. The details of the allotments were crosschecked with the information pertaining to personal assets declared in the candidature form when they re-contested in the February 2023 Assembly polls. It was found that 21 had not declared ownership of the condemned vehicles they were allotted. 14 of them went on to lose the elections.
No figures were provided as to the number of vehicles allotted to the Chief Minister, Deputy CM and Cabinet Ministers. It only stated that the allotments are governed by the Nagaland Salaries, allowances and other facilities of the Chief Minister, other Ministers, Speaker, Leader of Opposition, Deputy Speaker, other Members of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly/Parliamentary Secretaries and Pension for ex-Members Act, 2005 (Fifth amendment) Act, 2016.