Troubled Time for Artistes &Journalists
Nothing pleases more than a freebie. And if that benevolence from the government means spacious apartments, leafy avenues and an address to flaunt, how can one ever, having got it, give it up? The government accommodations, especially in Lutyens’ Delhi have a magnetic pull that can make people, even the most straight forward ones, latch on to them. They then promise to themselves that only death will part them and the accommodation they have moved in. In fact after the death of the person to whom the place was given, his off-springs have continued to live there as heirs would succeed to their father’s own property.
These fortunate allottees, and some ex-ministers and ex-MPs take to dilatory tactics, the most favoured one is to take legal recource. They go to any length to keep the accommodation. Recently when one MP went to the Supreme Court in the hope that it will grant a stay, the Court told him that as a former MP, he should set an example and leave the flat. After such a shameful observation of the court, the ex-MP had no option left.
In accepting freebies, my tribe, that is journalists, artistes, scholars and some ex-ministers and ex-MPs are equally greedy but the mediapersons do not resort to legal processes but use their editorial prowess to trouble the highest in the land. After sometime trying to retain their Lutyens’ Delhi address, even the most honest tend to forget all about being straight forward.
This practice of giving free accommodation was started by Pandit Nehru but most allotments were made by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V.Narasimha Rao. During Rajiv’s time, quite a few favourites and friends were obliged. I heard a young lady whose husband was close to Rajiv & Co, who must not have ever served a glass of water to her guests, was allotted a four or three bedroom flat in Asiad by describing her as nationally renowned social worker. From there she used her contacts to become a multi-millionaires.
There are others who have been given government accommodation due to security considerations, prominent among them are former Punjab DGP K.P.S. Gill, former youth Congress president M.S. Bitta, who has survived several attacks, and families of prominent politicians who served in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir as well as the northeast.
According to Urban Development Ministry, there are over 800 prominent persons, including ex-ministers and former members of Parliament, who are occupying government houses, either by adhoc extensions or by getting stay orders from lower courts.
The practice of allotting houses to non-governmental persons started during the reign of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but the maximum allotments had happened during the tenures of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. While the Culture Ministry recommended names of artistes, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry recommended names of eligible accredited journalists, Sports Ministry of eminent sportsmen and Home Ministry decided on those under threat from terrorist groups. This includes special protection group protectees such as Priyanka Vadra, who has been allotted a government bungalow for safety reasons but pays market rent.
One of the most controversial cases was that of sitar genius Pandit Ravi Shankar. He had been allotted a bungalow in Lodhi Estate as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha and he continued to live there. When the Urban Development Ministry sent him a notice, he had responded saying that this was not the way to treat a person who was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna. After a lot of wrangling, the prime minister’s office said the bungalow was allotted during the time of Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Successive governments had winked at the violations of the conditions as the artistes, journalists and others put tremendous pressure. Nevertheless, Modi, who had directed that all former members of parliament and UPA ministers should be asked to vacate last year, asked the cabinet committee of accommodation to be firm in dealing with other such allotments.
Recently, a Delhi court vacated the stay order of some former ministers such as Kumari Selja and Ambika Soni, who were hesitant to shift from the type eight bungalows, which are allotted only for ministers, supreme court judges, chiefs of armed forces as well as former presidents, vice presidents and prime ministers. Only time will tell whether Naidu will be able to handle the transition of artistes and other privileged sections from government bungalows.
In three cases out of 27, families of artistes are still residing in the flats long after their death. Of the 27 occupants, the CCA has directed the UD ministry to start immediate eviction proceedings against the families of late sitar player Ustad Vilayat Khan, dhrupad player RFK Dagar and rudraveena player Asad Ali Khan.
Even Babus in Delhi have been bitten by posh bug. The latest report is that 47 top government officials and political nominees have been served cancellation notices for their accommodation. There are more than a few senior bureaucrats, members of government commissions, journalists and other influential Delhiites who are holding on to official accommodation in prime Delhi areas. But most of these “unauthorised occupants” are still holding on to their accommodation illegally as they have found the easy way out of challenging eviction notices in court. As many as such 67 cases are being heard in court in 2013.
Journalists are living free like politicians, artistes, and influential Capital residents from different professions, and have flats in posh localities like San Martin Marg, Chanakya Puri, Shahjahan Road, Asian Games Village, Moti Bagh, Rabindra Nagar, Bharti Nagar, Hudco Place and RK Puram. The accommodation category is Type 6, Type 5 and Type 4, the rent of which will be anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh, going by the market rate and location in these posh areas of Delhi.
The list of those who have been served notices read like a Who’s Who. For instance it includes Abduli Azizi, former member National Commission for Backward Classes, Sudhir Kumar at San Martin Marg, retired bureaucrat Ashok Chawla at 69, Chanakyapuri, Buta Singh, former chairman of National Commission for SCs, at 11-A Teen Murti, H.S. Hanspal, former National Minorities Commission member at 23 Moti Bagh. Jawahar Sircar, former Secretary Culture, but reportedly there has been some settlement with him.
The list of people who have been served notices and of those who are slated to get notices soon shows that many of them swell the ranks of anti-Modi intellectuals and then the journalists are capable of attacking Modi and creating a wave against him. But surely what he is doing is not only legally correct but it is moral responsibility to put everything on correctional course.
By Vijay Dutt