Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy is getting his private residence fitted with solar fencing, a lightning protection system, CCTV cameras and additional air conditioning with a top-notch variable refrigerant volume system. The total cost of these amenities is coming to over Rs 3 crore, including Rs 80 lakh for the air conditioning system, and it will all be paid for by public money.
Jagan’s government is also providing an astounding Rs 3.25 crore to buy 0.15 acres of land abutting his house in Tadepalli in Guntur district, near the state’s designated capital Amaravati, to construct a view cutter.
But this is nothing new for the people of Andhra Pradesh — Jagan’s rival and predecessor N. Chandrababu Naidu also spent crores of public money to refurbish his private residence. Both chief ministers have often reminded people of the financial crunch the state faces since its bifurcation in 2014.
Jagan splashes the cash
The Tadepalli house is Jagan’s own. He moved into it before the general and state assembly elections. It is designated as the CM’s camp residence.
Since coming to power in May, Jagan has allegedly spent over Rs 15 crore on improved security and other conveniences at this house. A Government Order, issued in October from the department of transport, roads and buildings, sanctioned Rs 73 lakh for supply and installation of new doors and windows in the house. Earlier, Rs 5 crore was sanctioned to widen a 1.3 km stretch of road leading to the residence.
Although the Andhra Pradesh government is operating out of Amaravati, having shifted there in 2016, another Government Order issued in July provided Rs 24.5 lakh towards security arrangements at Jagan’s palatial Banjara Hills home in Hyderabad, famous as the ‘Lotus Pond residence’.
ThePrint has accessed all the Government Orders mentioned.
Naidu criticises, draws flak
Last week, Naidu raised concerns about Jagan’s cash splash on Twitter. “When Rome burned, Nero fiddled. When AP is burning under financial strain due to 5 months misrule & construction workers are ending lives, the Nero of AP Y S Jagan is busy playing video games at his palatial home on which a staggering Rs 15.65 crore was spent by the government. Shocking!” he said.
However, leaders of Jagan’s YSR Congress Party mocked Naidu and defended the expenditure at the CM’s residences.
“The CM’s house is amidst a populated area and is surrounded by high-rise buildings, which is why there is a requirement of view cutters, bullet-proof windows and other such security arrangements,” Perni Venkataramaiah, minister of transport and information & public relations, told ThePrint.
Taking the attack to Naidu, Venkataramaiah said: “Rs 100 crore was spent in five years on Naidu’s various needs, like refurbishing his camp offices, farmhouse, guest house in Hyderabad and Vijayawada, including procurement of luxurious items like crockery, furniture.
“While his Jubilee Hills residence was being reconstructed, Naidu’s family stayed in a five-star hotel in Hyderabad for a year or so, bills of which were paid by the government. What should we say about someone indulging in such lavishness with public money?”
A senior official in the roads and buildings department under Naidu agreed that the expenditure had been exorbitant, without confirming the Rs 100 crore figure alleged by Venkataramaiah.
“When he was in Hyderabad, Naidu operated from three-four places, including his farmhouse on the outskirts, all of which had to be renovated to suit the CM’s needs. When he shifted to Vijayawada in 2015, a government building was revamped for his use,” said the official, who is now retired.
The case of Lingamaneni Guest House
One of Naidu’s most controversial moves was when he moved into the Lingamaneni Guest House beside the river Krishna.
The roads and buildings department official quoted above said the guest house, which is owned by a businessman said to be close to Naidu, was “refurbished through a private contractor and the government paid the bills”.
“Many of these works are based on intelligence wing inputs for the security of a Z-plus category person, so our department could not say no,” the official said.
But some of the expenditure is truly shocking — one Government Order in March 2018 approved Rs 5 lakh to shift an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system from one part of the guest house to another, while another Rs 3 lakh was approved for the environmental lighting of lawns.
Naidu made many additions and extensions at the guest house, which is apparently built in violation of river zone regulations, including the Rs 9 crore Praja Vedika convention hall. After losing the elections, Naidu requested to use the Praja Vedika as office space, in his capacity as leader of the opposition, but Jagan’s administration razed the structure to the ground and also served eviction notices on the guest house.
However, TDP leaders also defended Naidu’s office/residence expenditure as necessary for his status as Z-plus category protectee.
“He needed elaborate security arrangements since he is a target of Maoists and was almost killed in one attack in 2003. What threat does Jagan face to need such an expensive shield around him? And by what measure is land being procured at Rs 3.25 crore for 0.15 acre in a locality where market value is not more than Rs 2.5 crore an acre?” asked Panchumarthi Anuradha, TDP spokesperson.
‘CAG-like body should probe’
Retired bureaucrats and political analysts blame both Jagan and Naidu for bleeding the exchequer to support their “lavish” lifestyles.
“While CMs like Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik live in a modest place, here everything around the CMs is lavish and the public is bearing the unrestrained expenditure,” said Subramanyam Dogiparthi, a retired academician and political commentator.
“After all, what does a CM require beside a good place to reside and another to operate from? Jagan, who was critical of Naidu is making the same mistake,” he said.
Dogiparthi, founder of citizens’ body Guntur Development Forum, criticised Jagan’s expenditure on the road by drawing a comparison to the “nightmarish” roads in the city.
I.Y.R. Krishna Rao, who served as chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh under Naidu, called the expenditure by both leaders “absurd”.
“The way public money is spent by Naidu and now Jagan is absurd. A Comptroller and Auditor General-like institution should notice such wasteful expense and probe it, which would also discourage such exorbitance in future,” Rao said.
“If and when Naidu moves out of the Lingamaneni Guest House, what happens to all the money spent on it under his government? Can the government move to recover that money?”
M.T. Krishna Babu, principal secretary of the roads and buildings department, said: “It is true that there was much expenditure for security and upkeep of then-CM’s residence. It has to be seen how far our system allows us to recover such items. As of now there is no such proposal.”
A permanent place for the CM?
Officials say ideally, there needs to be a permanent camp office/residence for the chief minister, like Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Pragathi Bhavan in Hyderabad.
In united Andhra Pradesh, chief ministers used to operate from the secretariat and their private homes, with essential modifications for security. During Jagan’s father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s time as CM, the official camp office was built at Begumpet in Hyderabad, which, after bifurcation, went to Telangana. KCR pumped Rs 50 crore into it and expanded it into a grand edifice.
“Such one-time investment is better than these impermanent arrangements prone to change with power transfer. Since there is a question on capital location, as and when there is clarity the government should take a call on a permanent CM camp office,” said another senior official of the roads and buildings department, a view that was echoed by many others.
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