Members of Parliament, elected to serve the people and pass new laws, are defaulters when it comes to clearing their own telephone bills.
In 34 years from the 7th Lok Sabha, which began in January 1980, and the 15th Lok Sabha, which was dissolved this May, more than 300 ex-MPs have still not paid their telephone bills worth Rs. 6.6 crore to MTNL. This was revealed by information obtained in April 2014 under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by HT.
Every MP enjoys 1.5 lakh free phone calls each year. The unpaid dues are over and above the free calls. Even as 315 new MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha are seeking new telephone connections from MTNL, the PSU officials are wary.
“The new MPs are applying for connections but if they don’t pay their telephone bills, we can’t do much. We can’t even disconnect their connections,” said an MTNL official on condition of anonymity.
Records scrutinised under RTI show that no MP’s MTNL connection has ever been disconnected for non-payment. This is because of an order to MTNL by VN Gadgil, minister of state for communications, on September 19, 1983. The letter states, “The telephone connection of a Member of Parliament should not be discontinued for any reason whatsoever until the case is brought to my notice.”
The order has not been rescinded since.
There are four ex-MPs from the 15th (previous) Lok Sabha whose bills are pending. Repeated attempts to reach them for comment went in vain. A detailed questionnaire sent to MTNL on the outstanding dues got no response either. Another MTNL official who did not want to be named, said, “Sometimes we write polite letters to ex-MPs. In most cases they never respond but there is nothing we can do.”
HT has inspected hundreds of letters written by MTNL officers to family members of expired ex-MPs but replies are rare.