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J&K calculating how much it spends on politicians, ex-officials overstaying in govt houses

Estates Dept is issuing notices to those living in govt facilities past the appointed tenure. Several politicians, including those from BJP, PDP, Congress, on list of 'defaulters'.

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Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Estates Department has begun calculating the cost being incurred by the government from at least 90 politicians, former legislators, political activists and advocates living in state housing facilities despite eviction notices.

Among the politicians overstaying their welcome in these government houses are prominent names from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, National Conference (NC), Apni Party, People’s Conference and J&K National Panthers Party.

Official sources in the Union Territory administration said the Estates Department exercise is in compliance with a Jammu and Kashmir High Court order dated 5 December. A bench — comprising Chief Justice Gita Mittal, who retired this Tuesday, and Justice Rajesh Bindal, who is now acting Chief Justice — had asked authorities details of expenses incurred on providing housing to former legislators.

Earlier, the J&K High Court had sought names of individuals occupying government facilities beyond the period of the allotment. The court was hearing a public interest litigation, that was filed in July this year, on the status of government housing facilities given to lawmakers, politicians and other individuals, such as those facing security threats.

“Two exercises are currently underway. One is to serve the latest high court order to all the individuals named in the list compiled by the Estates Department and submitted to the bench. The order will serve as a notice. The second activity is to collate expenses incurred by the government in the housing facilities that were listed by the Estates Department,” said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

Apart from collecting information on whether the unauthorised occupants have paid occupancy charges, licence fee, lease money, etc, the department is also checking on whether they are bearing any costs, such as electricity and water bills for the premises.

The high court has listed the matter for 22 December.


Also read: In this Kashmir border district, voters seek development & talk of Article 370 in hushed tones


Defaulters list has names from BJP, PDP, NC, others

Among the list, the most prominent names from the BJP include its J&K president Ravinder Raina, former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta and former MLA Sunil Sharma. More than a dozen politicians, former ministers, ex-MLAs and MLCs from the party figure in the list of those residing in ministerial bungalows, while others are occupying A, B and C type accommodations.

Other prominent names include NC’s former ministers Shafi Uri, Abdul Rahim Rather, Choudhary Muhammad Ramzaan, Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan founder and former minister Chaudhary Lal Singh, Panther Party’s Bhim Singh, Zaffar Iqbal Manhas of Apni Party, and PDP’s Nizamuddin Bhat.

In its order, the high court said: “The respondents shall file a separate tabulation giving the names of the person in occupation; property and also the charges of maintenance, repairs, white-washing which have been incurred on each of these premises after these officers have demitted office. Public money has been expended in violation of any possible tenet of law by these unauthorized occupants. The accommodation is badly needed for occupation by serving officers. This is a completely intolerable situation.”

According to government officials, the Estates Department is also collecting details on monthly expenses incurred from providing security and paying salaries to staff such as domestic help, gardeners and supervisors on duty at these government facilities.

“We shall consider passing appropriate orders regarding recovery of the charges for the unauthorized occupancy, electricity, water, elaborate security services necessitated at these offices/residences; expenses incurred on the manpower which had been deployed at these official accommodations,” noted the court.


Also read: ‘We are sitting ducks’ — elected village leaders in J&K fear for life but govt can do little


Politicians say they’re paying rent & bills, others say ready to move

Responding to the Estates Department’s move, former J&K deputy CM and senior BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said, “We are staying in the government housing owing to the security risk. But I have paid all my dues. I have been paying rent regularly.”

Apni Party senior leader Zafar Mihas said he had been served an eviction notice, but echoed a view similar to Kavinder Gupta. “The government has all the records. All my dues are cleared. The rent as well. Security is the main reason that we have taken up accommodation in the facilities, and if we are being provided security by the administration, some thought would have gone into that too.”

However, the high court bench had noted: “We are informed that there is no requirement in law for the government to provide accommodation as well to a person who is being provided a security cover.”

PDP’s senior leader Nizamuddin Bhat said, “When a sitting legislator loses elections or ends his/her term, they vacate or give up government accommodations provided to them under the law. In case an assembly is dissolved, like what happened in J&K, the norm or precedent is to allow the legislator to stay in the accommodation till elections are held. That is not happening here. Secondly, I am paying the rent. In fact, I am paying double, but I will vacate the premises as and when asked to do so by the authorities.”

Panthers Party founder Bhim Singh’s name is in the list as well, but his case is described as sub-judice.

Speaking to ThePrint, Singh said, “Previously too they tried to evict me and I had to approach the courts. I am fighting the case but I have been paying all dues and rents regularly. I have traveled across Kashmir during height of militancy when the BJP did not dare to come here. And now they come here to dictate things to us. The government very well knows that I have no property in J&K except a kacha house my village. I have been provided security due to threats, due to the work I have done, where am I supposed to house them. They won’t evict BJP leaders or those from Apni Party which has been created by Intelligence Bureau.”

ThePrint contacted BJP leaders Raina and Sharma on their mobile phones but couldn’t get through to them by the time of publishing this report.

Former BJP minister Lal Singh and NC leader Shafi Uri were also unavailable when contacted on phone.

NC leader Chaudhary Ramzaan, whose names features on the UT administration’s list, told ThePrint he was not in possession of any “government property anywhere in India”.

To this, a senior government official told ThePrint, “Mr Ramzaan had vacated the property sometime ago. The list provided to the high court has to be updated as some other legislators have also expressed that they will be vacating the official residences.”


Also read: With Burhan, Naikoo, Musa dead, Kashmir sees a shift towards ‘faceless’ militancy again


 

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