Patna: When Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav's son and Leader of Opposition in Bihar, filed a petition in the Patna High Court last year seeking to retain his official bungalow, little did he realise that he would be inviting legal scrutiny and public attention on the issue of government expenditure on politicians' residences. Yadav's petition was against an order of the state building construction department asking him to vacate his bungalow at 5, Deshratan Marg. The high court rejected his plea in October, 2018. Subsequently, the Supreme Court also rejected his petition and fined him Rs 50,000. After the apex court's order, Yadav finally vacated the government accommodation last Friday.
In the state, this issue has become a subject for political bickering. There was outrage over the lavish furnishing in the bungalow — including Italian tiles, walls with wooden panelling, 46 air-conditioners, a billiards table and an AstroTurf for sports on the first floor. Deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi has been allocated the same bungalow. Modi, pointing to a jogging track and an illuminated pathway, said, "I will not shift in this bungalow. It is too luxurious. It is better than a seven-star hotel." Modi further claimed that about Rs 5 crore was spent on its refurbishing, and termed it a "vulgar waste of public money." The BJP leader prefers to use the space as his office.
Maheshwar Hazari, cabinet minister, building construction department, said that he has asked officials to make an assessment of the cost incurred in the refurbishing of the bungalow. He claimed, "Since I took charge of the ministry, not a single paisa has been invested in the bungalow. All the furnishing was done when Yadav was both the minister for building construction as well as road construction." Hazari said that as per the rules, the maximum amount which can be spent on furnishing a ministerial bungalow was Rs 6 lakh every five years."
While the RJD has not sought to defend the expenditure incurred on refurbishing the bungalow, it has accused chief minister Nitish Kumar of incurring more expenditure than Tejashwi Yadav on this front. RJD MLA and spokesperson Bhai Virendra said, "Nitish Kumar has three bungalows in Patna. In Delhi, he has been allotted a bungalow, and there is also a suite in the Bihar Bhawan."
On Tuesday, the Patna High Court directed the Bihar government to withdraw the facility of free bungalows to former chief ministers and remarked that it was a "waste of public money."
The Nitish Kumar government had enacted the Bihar Special Security Group Act in 2010 to pave the way for lifelong bungalows, security and clerical staff at the cost of the public exchequer to chief ministers. However, the high court mentioned that prima facie, the Act was a violation of the Supreme Court decision in the Lok Prahari Vs State of Uttar Pradesh case, which led to former Uttar Pradesh chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati having to vacate their government accommodations in Lucknow.
Under the Act, ex-chief ministers Jitan Ram Manjhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Rabri Devi, Jagannath Mishra and Satish Prasad Singh (who was chief minister for just three days) were given lifelong bungalows. Nitish Kumar was also given such a bungalow as he had resigned as chief minister in 2014 after taking responsibility for his party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha election in that year.
The Bihar government has now notified that 7, Circular Road — the bungalow earlier allotted to Nitish Kumar — would be given to the state chief secretary. An official further said, "Rabri Devi and Jitan Ram Manjhi will be allowed to retain their present accommodation, as they are sitting legislators and are senior. But Jagannath Mishra and Satish Kumar would have to vacate their bungalows."
5, Deshratan Marg, located a stone's throw away from the chief minister's residence, was allotted to Yadav when he was deputy chief minister in the grand alliance government. The tussle over government bungalows began after the collapse of the grand alliance in 2017. The NDA government in Bihar gave notices to former RJD ministers to shift out from their ministerial bungalows. Six former RJD ministers challenged the order in the high court, but lost the cases. They had to vacate their government bungalows.
In December last year, when the Patna district magistrate reached 5, Deshratan Marg to evict Yadav, RJD MLAs staged a dharna. They argued that the matter was pending before a division bench of the high court, notwithstanding the fact that there was no stay order on the single bench's order. The district administration backtracked. Incidentally, Yadav has declared that he would not shift to 1, Polo Road — the new bungalow allotted to him — and would stay with his parents at 10, Circular Road.
The ministerial bungalows in Patna, located near the airport, are in an area which is similar to Lutyens' Delhi. In this area, which is a high-security zone, there are huge houses spread over acres of land. A former BJP minister remarked, "Bihar is one of the best states to be a minister as far as accommodation is concerned. The houses are much better than those given to ministers in other states. It is understandable why politicians are reluctant to vacate them even after they are out of power."
Updated Date: Feb 21, 2019 17:47:38 IST