Jaipur: The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan has served an evacuation notice to a former party chief minister, Jagannath Pahadia, but has refused to comply with court orders to get his predecessor, Vasundhara Raje of the BJP, to vacate her government bungalow.
Pahadia was Rajasthan’s first Dalit chief minister and is a senior Congress leader. He had worked as a minister of state for finance in the Indira Gandhi government of the ’80s. He also had stints as the governor of Bihar and Haryana. The octogenarian Congress leader is currently undergoing treatment in Delhi.
The notice was issued to Pahadia Monday. He has been given 15 days to vacate his bungalow.
The notice is in line with the order of the state high court which, in September last year, declared ‘void’ a law enacted by the previous Raje government extending life-time free house, car and staff facilities to former chief ministers.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had dismissed a special leave petition (SLP) of the state government challenging the high court order.
Responding to a contempt petition Monday, the Gehlot government informed the high court that it served a notice to Pahadia but it took a contrary stand with regard to Raje, a former BJP chief minister.
The Congress government said it has not sent a notice to Raje as it was coming up with a new house allotment policy for senior legislators. While Raje is a sitting MLA, Pahadia is not.
The proposed new policy is likely to make a provision for bigger independent accommodation for senior MLAs who are currently allotted a flat. This would enable Raje to keep her official bungalow, 13 Civil Lines, where she has been residing since 2008.
Both former chief ministers, however, have already given up other facilities such as a car and staff.
An unusual bonhomie
Chief Minister Gehlot has gone to great lengths to let Raje keep her government accommodation.
In September, Gehlot had made his intentions clear by stating that the high court order had no link to Raje’s bungalow. He had also said that his government will decide on allotting the former CM a bungalow based on its policy of taking seniority into account.
Veteran journalist Milap Chand Dandia, who had filed the PIL against freebies to former CMs, expressed surprise at the development.
Dandia, who had earlier successfully challenged allotment of free government bungalow to former governor Anshuman Singh, told ThePrint that his PIL and the court ruling extends to all former chief ministers, including Raje.
His lawyer, senior advocate Vimal Choudhary, said that, legally, Raje had no right to stay even for a single day in the bungalow after the high court order and more so after the Supreme Court rejected the state government’s SLP.
“This is contempt of court and the government should not only serve her a notice but also collect rent from her for the entire period for which she occupied the house,” Choudhary said.
He, however, said the state government was within its rights to bring in a policy providing bigger accommodation to senior sitting MLAs.
Sting in the tale
Gehlot’s gesture has bewildered many and given way to intense speculation that he and Raje, once sworn enemies, may have buried the hatchet.
The amendment that the previous Raje government introduced into the Rajasthan Ministers’ Salaries Act, 1956, in 2017 was only an improvisation of Gehlot’s original idea.
The Raje government only legalised Gehlot’s idea to facilitate a free house, car and government staff to former chief ministers.
Gehlot had moved a proposal for free accommodation, car and staff to former CMs during his first tenure as CM in 1998. He had passed an executive order to this effect.
At that time, four former CMs, including three from the Congress — Shiv Charan Mathur, Jagannath Pahadia and Heera Lal Devpura — and the BJP’s Bhairon Singh Shekhawat became entitled to these facilities. Shekhawat being a leader of opposition was already using them.
Gehlot joined the club of ex-CMs when he lost elections in 2003. He used these benefits twice from 2003 to 2008 and from 2013 to 2018. Both times, he was allotted the same spacious bungalow in the civil lines.
Raje too used this provision to allot herself the bungalow when she lost the elections in 2008. But unlike Gehlot, she kept living in the bungalow at 13 Civil Lines instead of moving into 8 Civil Lines, the designated official residence for the CM, which also remained in her possession. She even renamed the bungalow ‘Anant Vijay’.
Her government went a step further, enacting The Rajasthan Ministers’ Salaries (Amendment) Act, 2017. It ensured two key changes, making former CMs at par with cabinet ministers and also extending all these freebies for a lifetime.
This is the law that was struck down by the high court in September.
Raje had faced flak even from party leaders
Even when it was passed, Raje faced criticism, even from her own party. Former law minister Ghanshyam Tiwari, then with the BJP, had even alleged that the Act had been brought by Raje to usurp prime property worth Rs 2,000 crore.
Tiwari paid the price as he was denied a BJP ticket in the last assembly election. He is now with the Congress. He told ThePrint that the Congress government should follow the court orders rather than finding a ‘gully’ to skip its implementation.
Yet, there are many others who have been ‘occupying’ government bungalows in violation of the law. The government had served a notice to former minister Narpat Singh Rajvi, who has been living in the bungalow allotted to his father-in-law Bhairon Singh Shekhawat by virtue of him being an ex-CM.
Rajya Sabha MP Dr Kirori Lal Meena too has a government bungalow that was allotted to his wife Golma Devi when she was minister in Gehlot government from 2008-13. But the state government has not even served a notice to him.