Lifelong government housing for former chief ministers is organised loot under the garb of democracy

When Kamal Kishore Khosla dreamt of his own ghosla in the eponymous film, he missed an easy trick. Instead of slogging and saving for a nest all his life, fighting with greedy builders, he could have just dreamt of becoming a chief minister. That would have guaranteed him lifelong accommodation in one of the prime properties in many states in India.

Land grab now has the legitimacy of democracy in India. Many state governments are now allowing former chief ministers to become lifelong guests of the state government by occupying a bungalow of their choice, in the city of their choice, for free.

If this isn't organised loot, what is?

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Reuters

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. Reuters

Consider the case of Rajasthan, for instance. A few days ago, one of its prominent leaders, Jaipur (Sanganer) legislator Ghanshyam Tiwari, met the governor to ask him to turn down a bill that allows former chief ministers the privilege of staying in a government house for the rest of their lives.

In his memorandum to the governor, Tiwari alleged that the bill was a crude attempt by his party's chief minister Vasundhara Raje at grabbing land in the poshest address in Rajasthan – Civil Lines, Jaipur. Tiwari alleged that the Raje government had passed the bill so that the chief minister could live in 13, Civil Lines – the bungalow she has been occupying since 2008 – even after her tenure ends. Tiwari said the property is worth a whopping 'Rs 2000 crore'.

Similar post-retirement sinecures are becoming the privilege of many other politicians. Earlier this week, the Madhya Pradesh government allowed former chief minister Babu Lal Gaur to occupy a bungalow without paying a penny for the rest of his life. Gaur, a stop-gap chief minister between 23 August, 2004 and 29 November 29, 2005, was ousted from the Shivraj Chouhan cabinet recently.

The perk is primarily Chouhan's carrot for Gaur's silence and cooperation. But, it makes a mockery of the professed aim of his party to deny politicians the privilege of leeching off public money – of the chief ministers being chief sevaks, not lifelong recipients of the government's doles. Incidentally, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh had recently passed an order increasing his own salary by an obscene 600 percent.

What exactly entitles a former chief minister – or for that matter any elected representative – the right to grab land? They are, after all, just elected representatives chosen to do a particular job for a specified period of time. And, like all other sevaks, pradhans or otherwise, they should be asked to vacate government accommodation immediately after completing their tenure.

But, state after state has allowed the farce of a chief minister passing a bill that secures his or her own retirement at the public's expense. Soon after he won the recent Assembly elections, one of the first decisions by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh was to allow his predecessors, himself and his potential successors to remain sarkari guests till the end of their privileged lives.

Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh, former chief ministers are allowed to live in government bungalows in Lucknow for the rest of their lives, even when their tenures have been short-lived and riddled with charges of corruption, accumulation of disproportionate assets and land grabbing.

The decision to let chief ministers and other retired public representatives live off people's wealth is unique to India. In many advanced democracies, even prime ministers and presidents are asked to find their own shelter – remember David Cameron's quick exit from 10, Downing Street post Brexit? –  and pay for it once their term ends.

This is the logical and legal thing to do because elected representatives do not serve for free. During their tenures, they are paid hefty paychecks – Chouhan for instance charges around Rs two lakh per month plus other perks for being Madhya Pradesh's mukhya sevak – and post-retirement, they are guaranteed a decent pension. So, why should they be allowed free accommodation?

Perhaps such decisions could have made on humanitarian grounds, or because of security risks. But, why exactly should a former royal like Raje, whose family owns palaces and real estate across India, be allowed the luxury of occupying a bungalow worth crores in the heart of Rajasthan's capital? Similarly, what entitles a former royal like Amarinder and his predecessor Parkash Singh Badal to government aid?

Also, even if former chief ministers are too poor to finance their own living, what is the logic behind giving them palatial bungalows for the rest of their lives? Why can't the Gaurs and Rajes of Indian politics live in smaller houses or flats that cost little to acquire and maintain?

Truth is, this organised and legalised land-grab is a vestige of our feudal past. Once elected, politicians start believing, like the Mughals, nawabs and kings, that they too have acquired the right to live in luxury for the rest of their lives. And since the Khoslas – the veritable aam  aadmi – are busy fighting for their own ghosla, such loot goes on unnoticed, unchecked and unreported.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 18:53 PM

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