How much time does a politician, having served in a public capacity, need to vacate sarkari accommodation? Old timers here would surely recall Sarat Chandra Sinha walking out from the Chief Minister’s official residence in Dispur with nothing but a suitcase, immediately after news came in of Congress defeat in the 1978 polls. It was typical of Sinha, for he used to occupy the CM’s bungalow alone and was known to discourage family visits there. A couple of years ago when Sharad Pawar’s autobiography came out, an anecdote in it was widely reported of an AICC session in Mumbai during the Seventies where Sarat Sinha turned out with suitcase in hand and bedding on head. It turned out that the then Assam CM could only afford a railway trip by third class out of his pocket, as he would not spend government money for attending a party fixture! Sinha may have been one of his kind, but so was Manik Sarkar who lived the frugal life of a genuine CPI(M) cadre during the 20 years he helmed Tripura. When the saffron surge claimed Tripura recently, Sarkar immediately shifted from the CM’s residence to a two-room set at the party’s guest house without much ado. Now comes the news that two former Uttar Pradesh CMs, the father-son duo Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, have sought “appropriate time” from the Supreme Court to vacate official residences allotted to them by the State government. Early this month, the apex court had ruled that former CMs cannot retain government accommodation after demitting office, as they were at par with common people after their term ended. The SC bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi had struck down the amendments made by the erstwhile Akhilesh Yadav government to allot bungalows to successive ex-CMs, holding that the provision had the effect of ‘creating a separate class of citizens’ for conferment of benefits through distribution of public property on the basis of office held by them.
Following the SC verdict, the UP Estate department issued eviction notices to 6 former CMs, giving them 15 days to move out. Both Mulayam Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav are learnt to have sought two-year extensions, pleading lack of ‘suitable and secure alternative accommodation’. So how much time is ‘appropriate time’ to leave behind the trappings of power, including posh sarkari bungalows? This pernicious mindset of entitlement is so rooted in the ruling class that the Union Cabinet recently had to clear amendments to the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, so as to ensure that ministers, MPs and bureaucrats don’t overstay in government accommodations in Delhi once their term is over. Such influential ‘squatters’ staying put beyond 5 months will have to pay stiff fines to the tune of Rs 10 lakh and more. It is learnt that after the stipulated 1-month time to vacate official accommodation is over and while the Union Urban Development Ministry takes a couple of months to initiate eviction proceedings, the occupant meanwhile moves court to get a stay order. The Central government now wants the eviction process to be initiated three days after end of stipulated time. This then is the situation in the country’s capital, with mausoleums and memorials galore of departed leaders, while former ministers and babus rule the roost in the posh Lutyens zone long after their term is over. The NDA government has reportedly evicted about 1,500 such squatters in the last four years, and hopefully the process will be speeded up. Closer at home, with former CM Tarun Gogoi’s new accommodation yet to be ready in the MLA quarters in Dispur, he continues perforce atop Koinadhara hills at Khanapara, a State guesthouse earlier and later his official residence when he held the reins in Assam. Present CM Sarbananda Sonowal meanwhile holds court at the other State guesthouse near Raj Bhavan at Kharguli. This in turn necessitated the merging of the erstwhile three-star Brahmaputra Ashoka hotel with the adjoining Circuit House, planned as a grand State guest house-cum-convention centre. Government cost cutting and waste prevention is a far cry in this scheme of things.