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Govt pushes squatters out of Lutyens Bungalow Zone, only 4 left

Author: Moushumi Das Gupta
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: August 24, 2016
URL:   https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-pushes-squatters-out-of-lutyens-bungalow-zone-only-4-left/story-JrSIsyfhmkeHK1YVgKQMMM.html    

The eviction of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s estranged wife Payal from a plush VIP bungalow in the nation’s capital underscores the government’s push to rid its limited living spaces of squatters.

Like many politicians, bureaucrats and their families overstaying in Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Payal Abdullah too was reluctant to vacate the house given to the chief minister, though he no longer holds the post. But a court order forced her out on Monday.

The BJP-led NDA government has evicted about 1,500 squatters, mostly politicians and bureaucrats, since it came to power in May 2014. It has refused to entertain any request for extension, even from former party parliamentarians and ministers.

Home to the Capital’s power elite, the leafy VIP zone designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century has wide, tree-lined promenades, spacious bungalows, and signature landmarks.

But the houses are limited, and the pressure to find homes for new ministers and officials mounts because of the reluctance of many VIPs to move out at the end of their term, or after they take up assignments outside the Capital.

The low rent, between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh a year, for those overstaying added to the lure.

But in June this year, the government came up with a rule, fixing 10% additional charge to the rent for the first month of overstay. For the second, the penalty goes up to 20%, and doubles each subsequent month until the charge reaches the maximum limit of Rs 10 lakh.

There are four VIPs overstaying in Lutyens’ bungalows now — Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, his Uttarakhand counterpart Harish Rawat, former home minister Buta Singh, and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

Singh was given the 1 Jantar Mantar address when he was Union steel minister, but didn’t vacate the house after he returned to his native state in June 2012 as its chief minister. The previous UPA government allowed Buta Singh to retain the 11-A Teen Murti Marg bungalow for security reasons till June 2014, but he continues to stay on. He was allowed several extensions before.

Both leaders have challenged the move to evict them in court. “We will have to wait for the court’s order,” a Union urban development ministry official said.

Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat, who was Union water resources minister from 2012 to 2014, occupies 9, Teen Murti Lane. The UPA government allowed him to stay there till June 2015, while the NDA administration extended the occupancy by another year.

Sonowal resigned as Union sport minister in May, but continues to occupy his 12 Tughlaq Road bungalow.

“They requested for a bungalow in exchange for one of the six houses from the Uttarakhand and Assam quotas. We are considering the request,” the ministry official said.

The NDA government has adopted a strict policy to reject requests from politicians to extend their stay in official accommodations, in sharp contrast to its predecessor’s decisions. Sources said senior BJP leader and former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha had to vacate his house after the government showed him the rule book.

The UPA government, however, had allowed RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and a host of politicians and bureaucrats to retain their bungalows in February 2014, just before the general elections.

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