Despite enjoying freebies worth crores, lawmakers drain the system by turning defaulters when it comes to pay back. Syed Asma takes a look at lawmaker’s costs of comfort that people bear
Being a politician in Kashmir is a blessing and if the one is from a ruling party it is even better. On January 19, 2009 when Omar Abdullah took the oath as the youngest CM he took a decision.
Unlike his predecessors, he decided to stay in his three-bedroom house in Srinagar and not shift to the palatial chief minister’s official residence. “I have a small family. My two children would be lost in that huge mansion. In fact, I don’t need such a huge mansion to live in,” Omar Abdullah had told the media.
Instead he constructed a new bungalow worth Rs 3.40 crore adjacent to his property at Gupkar, Srinagar. The stylish bungalow includes two bedrooms, a dining hall, one kitchen, an underground recreational room, a small gym and sauna. As Omar constructed the bungalow on his own it would continue to be his property even when he is no longer the CM. A senior bureaucrat claims that a part of the renovation cost was drawn from funds meant for the state’s security related expenditure (SRE).
The National Conference’s patron and Omar’s father, Farooq Abdullah also wished to build a bungalow adjacent to Hari Niwas to serve as chief ministers’ official residence. But the high court stayed the construction following a writ petition citing the environmental threat as a reason.
Besides, the last three chief ministers have all personally overseen renovation and constructions of their respective official quarters and have spent huge amount from the state funds.
In 2002, the Estates Department spent over Rs 6 crore revamping Guest House Number 5 on M.A. Road for People’s Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed after he became the chief minister. After Ghulam Nabi Azad took over in 2005 he rejected the official residence and instead chose to move into a J&K Bank’s guest house at Zethiyar, on the bank of Dal Lake until Rs 10-15 crore were spent on redecorating Hari Niwas for Azad.
Pertinently, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has not vacated the Fairview Guest house at Gupkar road yet. The house is maintained by Hospitality and Protocol department.
It is not only the Chief Minister who enjoys the state accommodations and utilizes the state funds for the renovation of their private houses or government quarters. From 2010-2014, the state has spent around Rs 740.223 lakh on the accommodations of the minister excluding the CM’s residence in twin capital cities.
Almost 90 per cent of the ministers and legislatures live in the government apartments which are maintained and renovated by the department of estates. Besides, their accommodations in other cities of India are also taken care by Jammu and Kashmir’s Hospitality and Protocol department.
Of 740.223 lakh, Rs 66.8 lakh is spent on Abdul Rahim Rather’s twin residences in Jammu and Srinagar. Gh Hassan Mir has spent Rs 64.94 Lakh; Qamar Ali Akhoon 55.48 lakh and Nasir Aslam Wani spent Rs 48.91 lakh. The amount is spent in last four years on their accommodations in Jammu and Srinagar.
As per the law, state ministers are entitled to rent free accommodation in state as well as outside the state. However, the MLAs and MLCs are asked to pay a minimal tariff for both. The state has owned land at various places in Jammu and Kashmir and across India as well to provide luxury facilities to an individual who is a part of the establishment especially a minister or an MLA. The individuals use it for residential purpose as well as guest houses. Hardly do they use or construct their own houses after entering politics.
There are a total of 429 guest house across state: 279 in Kashmir and 145 in Jammu. For past three years these guest houses have hosted 1527 guests and the expenditure incurred on them is 28.58 lakh. The funds incurred provided for the maintenance of the guest houses inside state in 2011-13 is 885.03 lakh.
Having such luxurious facilities available the legislative members are often accused of misusing them. “I am witness that many ministers use the guesthouses outside the state for their relatives,” says a sitting MLA. “I agree a lawmaker needs to have best of the facilities available but a check is also needed. The system needs him to take him to task if he misuses his power.”
Drawing such huge salaries and enjoying the best of the facilities available, various ministers and legislators are hesitant to pay the minimal rent of their residential quarters or the guest houses they use. An amount of Rs 2.61 lakh is due towards ministers and legislators of the state till 2013. Mubarak Gul is one of the defaulters. The amount that is due to him is Rs 87,145. Next to him is Abdul Majid Wani, a minister, his owes state Rs 36,740. Third in the list is G A Mir with Rs 15,258 outstanding.
Among the ex- MLAs Bhim Singh owes the most, Rs 4.10 lakh as outstanding rent. Of the former ministers, Tariq Ahmed Karaa has the highest outstanding amount of Rs 44,840.
The total due amount of the former ministers and legislators’ up to 2013 is around Rs 7 lakh.