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It cost HOW much?! Secrets of the lavish properties J&K Chief Ministers made their official homes

Author: Naseer Ganai
Publication: Daily Mail.co.uk
Date: January 12, 2014
URL:      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2538242/It-cost-HOW-Secrets-lavish-mansions-J-K-Chief-Ministers-official-homes.html

Amid the deluge of criticism that followed his decision to occupy the 5-BHK twin duplex accorded to him as official accommodation, it wasn't surprising that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal found his most ardent supporter in his Jammu and Kashmir counterpart, Omar Abdullah.

After all, the issue is utterly significant in India's northern-most state, where the past three chief ministers have all personally overseen elaborate renovation/ construction of their respective official quarters and a fourth's attempts were only stopped short by a court order.

In 2002, the Estates Department spent over Rs 6 crore refurbishing Guest House Number 5 on Srinagar's busy M.A. Road for People's Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed after he was sworn in as chief minister.

Overnight, massive iron gates came up on the road outside the main entrance of the building. A huge wall was built around the premises - secured further by concrete barricades - and the pedestrian path outside the building blocked. It is said that the house also has a bulletproof glass room.

Requesting anonymity, government officials claimed a part of the renovation cost was drawn from funds meant for the state's security related expenditure (SRE).

History of luxury

The house, rejected by Sayeed's successor Ghulam Nabi Azad, now serves as the official residence of Jammu and Kashmir's Deputy Chief Minister.

Azad became chief minister in mid-2005. He moved into the J&K Bank guest house at Zethiyar, on the bank of Dal Lake, in an interim arrangement, and initiated reconstruction work on the abandoned Hari Niwas Palace - built by Kashmir's last royal Hari Singh before Independence - that he sought as his official residence.

The maharaja had got the palace constructed for his wife, Maharani Tara Devi, despite warnings from priests that such an exercise would prove inauspicious as the area was the abode of a Hindu deity.

Hardly had Tara Devi moved in, though, that the family was driven out amid the turbulence caused by Partition in 1947. A little less than five decades later, the Hari Niwas had become an interrogation centre associated with harrowing tales of torture and deaths. Around Rs 10-15 crore was spent on refurbishing it for Azad.

In its new avatar the property, built over 70 kanals (one kanal=0.8 acre) of land, boasts three presidential suites, a VVIP guesthouse and four master bedrooms, besides an office for the chief minister's secretariat.

However, the Congress leader had to vacate the house in 2008, soon after moving in, as his coalition government lost the PDP's support following the massive protests against the transfer of forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. The bungalow is now under the control of the Hospitality and Protocol Department.

When Omar Abdullah took charge in January 2009, he constructed a new bungalow adjacent to his property at Gopkar.

The stylish house - with two bedrooms, one dining hall, one kitchen, an underground recreational room, a small gym and sauna - was constructed at the cost of around Rs 3.40 crore.

A government official said the bungalow will continue to be in Omar's name even when he is no longer the CM.

"I don't think any other chief minister will ask him to vacate the house," the official added.

Omar's father Farooq Abdullah also sought to build a bungalow adjacent to the Hari Niwas to serve as chief ministers' official residence.

However, the high court stayed the construction following a writ petition citing the environmental threat it would pose.

In Jammu and Kashmir, former chief ministers are entitled to government quarters, too, say officials in the Department of Hospitality and Protocol.
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