Stop claiming Lutyens' Delhi as your own

For sons and daughters of dead politicians to squat in a bungalow valued at Rs 300 crore is a feudal practice that is now finally ending.

 |  4-minute read |   19-11-2015
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Most residents of Delhi's Lutyens' bungalow zone don't own the properties they live in. The odd businessman does but all the others are, in effect, tenants. A few - senior bureaucrats and armed forces officers - are short-term residents. Many (mostly politicians) are often long-term squatters.

How much do they cost the taxpayer? Apart from a few upscale residential enclaves in Mumbai (Malabar Hill, Altamount Road and parts of Breach Candy), Lutyens' Delhi is India's highest priced real estate. A quick study shows how much it costs the nation to house VVIPs in such a luxurious sprawl.

Most MPs live in or around Lutyens Delhi. The estimated real estate value of each home? Rs 300-500 crore, depending on the size of the bungalow. Ministers obviously get the biggest plots. Many of our 543 Lok Sabha and 250 Rajya Sabha MPs are multimillionaires and perfectly capable of owning their homes, saving the exchequer a tidy sum.

At Rs 6 lakh a year, MPs' salaries are modest - justifiably so, given the declining number of days parliament functions - but the perks of office compensate. American senators earn a generous annual salary of $1,74,000 (Rs 1.15 crore) but are entitled to relatively modest perks and live in homes that cost a fraction of Indian MPs' bungalows. British MPs receive an annual salary of £74,000 (Rs 75 lakh). Singapore's largely technocratic legislators, despite a recent salary cut, command among the world's highest salaries for public servants (an average of $1.10 million per year - Rs 7.30 crore) but again, like their American and British counterparts, enjoy relatively few perks.

The allotment of former President Abdul Kalam's bungalow at 10, Rajaji Marg to culture and tourism minister Mahesh Sharma last month raised eyebrows and hackles. The bungalow is unusual. Edwin Lutyens built mainly single-storied bungalows in the zone. The 10, Rajaji Marrg address is different from most others in the zone in that is has two stories. Lutyens himself lived in it.

The government was drawn into issuing a laborious formal statement defending the allotment to Sharma:

Regarding allocation of General Pool Residential Accommodation (GPRA) at No 10, Rajaji Marg, New Delhi to Minister of Culture & Tourism, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, it is clarified that :

(i) Government of India vide decision F.No.28011/2011-W.2(Vol.II Part) of 18th October 2014 imposed a total ban on conversion of Government bungalows into memorials of the departed leaders.

(ii) Earlier, Supreme Court vide their judgement of 5th July 2013 in the matter of S.D. Bandi vs. Divisional Traffic Officer, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation and Others held the view that no Government bungalow be converted into memorial.

(iii) Executive Assistant of former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has informed the Ministry of Urban Development that the said bungalow would be vacated by October 31, 2015.

(iv) Government has already decided to build a memorial for Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, his birthplace.

(v) The said bungalow at No 10, Rajaji Marg has been allotted to Dr Mahesh Sharma under Rule 3 of the Minister's Residence Rules, 1962, which says "Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State shall be allotted Type VIII accommodation subject to availability and in that order".

(vi) All other Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State have been allotted Government accommodation and only Dr.Mahesh Sharma was waiting for official accommodation and accordingly, the said bungalow was allotted to him on vacation basis.

More insidious than the sheer wastefulness of the Lutyens' bungalow zone is the sense of entitlement that goes with it. Over the past year, 461 squatters (former ministers and MPs) have been evicted from their Lutyens bungalows. This is unprecedented.

According to a report in Mumbai Mirror, "Of these, 37 were forced evictions including the sons of former prime minister Chandra Shekhar and Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh. Recently, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu also made it clear that officials who turn a blind eye to unauthorised occupations will be penalised. Initially, 429 former ministers and MPs were sent show cause notices, but only 44 moved out. Stepping up pressure, 380 eviction orders were handed out and the official residences vacated. Among the heavyweights to be shown the door are RJD chief Lalu Yadav, JD(U) leader KC Tyagi and many UPA ministers. Congress leaders and ex-ministers Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni unsuccessfully moved court and privilege motions against the order to vacate their respective residences."

Defence of the squatters came from an unusual source. "There has been a long tradition of not implementing the rules so vigorously. Precedents can be found on both sides," said maverick Congress Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar. (His Rajya Sabha term ends in March 2016 at which stage he will have to vacate his Lutyens' bungalow.)

In Britain, movers and packers arrive at 10 Downing Street shortly after election results are confirmed. Within hours the outgoing prime minister is gone, bag and baggage. The new prime minister moves in. No fuss, no  sense of entitlement.

In India we do things a little differently. But for sons and daughters of dead politicians to squat in a Lutyens' bungalow valued at Rs 300 crore is a feudal practice that is now finally ending.

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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