On Wednesday (July 14, 2021), the Bombay High Court directed Maharashtra's Energy Minister Nitin Raut, among others, to respond to a PIL filed by the state BJP media cell chief - Vishwas Pathak - seeking orders directing Raut to reimburse the state power companies for Rs 43.55 lakh allegedly spent on his "illegal" use of chartered flights during the lockdown last year.
"Chartered flights cannot be taken by any minister at State expense unless approved by the Chief Minister of the State," the petition stated, "As a result, Respondent No. (Raut) misused his position as ex officio Chairman of MSEB to make MSEB.....pay for his luxurious chartered flights."
On Wednesday(July 14, 2021), a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni heard the petition filed by FF and Associates. Following the filing of the petitioners' affidavit of service, the bench directed the respondents to file their reply affidavits.
The State, Nitin Raut, the Maharashtra State Electricity Holding Company Ltd, the Maharashtra State Power Generation Co Ltd, the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co Ltd, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission, and the Union of India are among the respondents.
The case has been rescheduled for July 28, 2021.
According to the petition, Raut "flouted the existing norms on multiple occasions" during the lockdown, when the country's highest officials were performing their duties from remote areas, and took the liberty to travel around the country for personal reasons under the guise of administrative work.
"It appears that the aforementioned chartered flights were paid for by state-owned companies that are publicly funded... Each of these payments made by MSEB, MAHAGENCO, MAHATRANSCO, and MAHAVITRAN at the request and pressure of Respondent 2 (Raut) is a clear abuse of position and misuse of power, "according to the plea.
According to the petitioners, in response to an RTI request, MSEB stated that Raut used chartered flights for two trips in June and July 2020 for "Important Administrative Work" totaling Rs. 14.45 lakhs.
The Department of Industry, Energy, and Labour, on the other hand, stated that no such proposal is on file.
Further RTI requests reveal that the other subsidiaries spent Rs. 29.10 lakh on three Raut trips in July and September 2020.
According to the petition, MAHATRANSCO and MAHAVITRAN failed to provide the requested information. It also reveals that the individual who filed the RTI was unable to attend a hearing regarding his complaint due to his ill health.
As a result, the petition asks that Raut be ordered to reimburse the amount of Rs. 43.55 lakh, plus 18% interest. Companies that have not disclosed the amounts used for chartered flights may be ordered to do so, according to the plea.