The lifetime perk of living in stately official bungalows dwarfed only by the snow-clad mountains around them could be wrested from all former J&K chief ministers, who were so far insulated by Article 370 from the purview of the Supreme Court’s verdict that occupying a constitutional post does not guarantee use of an official residence for life.
Barring Farooq Abdullah, all former CMs, including his son Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad, retain their rent-free government bungalows in Srinagar’s fortified Gupkar Road neighbourhood.
Nearly all of them with the exception of Azad spent crores of rupees on modernising or renovating these official bungalows to suit their requirements. Official sources said Omar and Mehbooba cumulatively spent nearly Rs 50 crore on their respective bungalows when they were in government.
The roads and buildings department allegedly spent a large amount of money in renovating even the private house of Mehbooba’s father and former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at Nowgam on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Leaders of both Omar’s National Conference and Mehbooba’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) cited “security concerns” for the former CMs staying put in their official bungalows after their stints in government ended.
Farooq owns two residences on Gupkar Road, but Omar retains the official bungalow “No.1” that is just a few houses away. The renovated bungalow apparently has all the trappings of modernity, including a gym and sauna. An official of the J&K estates department said on condition of anonymity that Rs 20 crore had been spent on renovating the bungalow during Omar’s term as CM from 2009 to 2014.
While Omar’s father lives in his own house, he claims rent against the bungalow that he is entitled to as a former CM, the estates official said. There are also attendant privileges like a full contingent of staff whose salaries come from the exchequer.
Mehbooba’s government bungalow called Fairview on Gupkar Road has been her home since 2005. Former CM Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq’s grandson Iftikhar Sadiq allegedly even sold a portion of the “evacuee property” that he occupies at Garibal in the touristy Dalgate area. An evacuee property is that which belonged to someone who migrated to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1947, making the J&K government its custodian.
Congress leader Azad is possibly the only former CM of J&K who does not occupy any government bungalow or claim rent against it. He only has “temporary possession” of Jammu & Kashmir Bank’s guesthouse at Zaityar on Gupkar Road, where he is known to meet party workers. Azad lives in his private house at Hyderpora in Srinagar.
In May 2018, the Supreme Court quashed an Uttar Pradesh law that guaranteed all former CMs of the state an official bungalow each for life. After that ruling, J&K remained the only state where an ex-CM could stay on in an official bungalow without even paying rent.
Apart from rent-free bungalows, former CMs of J&K enjoy a range of other privileges that include bullet-proof vehicles and a retinue of staff with post-retirement benefits. Farooq’s brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah, who was CM from 1984 to 1986, had enacted the State Legislature Members’ Pension Act, 1984, of which Section 3C (e) and (f) are later additions that provide a former CM the perks of a personal assistant, a special assistant, two peons and a bullet-proof vehicle.
Section 3C (e) and (f) were incorporated into the act in 1997-98, when Farooq was chief minister. Section 3C (e) states, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, a member who is entitled to pension under this act and who has served as chief minister of the state, shall be entitled to car, petrol, medical facilities, driver, rent-free furnished accommodation, expenditure to the limit of Rs 35,000 per annum for furnishing of the residential accommodation, free telephone calls up to the value of Rs 48,000 per annum, (and) free electricity to the extent of Rs 1500 per month.”
The Jammu and Kashmir State Law Commission, headed by Justice (retd) MK Hanjura, last month recommended to the government that some provisions in the act be removed because they “violate the constitutional principles of equality”. In the report submitted to chief secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, he declared Section 3C (e) and (f) of the act “arbitrary and not in consonance with any scheme or law”.
Source : Times Of India