Bungalows, Memorials, Rents, And Meira Kumar

by Jayraj Pandya and Shivam Shankar Singh - Jun 23, 2017 04:18 PM +05:30 IST
Bungalows, Memorials, Rents, And Meira Kumar Meira Kumar (Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • In 2011, Meira Kumar owed Rs 1.98 crore to the government in rent for a Type-VIII bungalow in Delhi

Everyone would agree with the fact that any individual who is chosen to become the President of India must be a person with impeccable integrity and selfless commitment towards serving the country.

Among the series of diatribes made on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) presidential nominee, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, the one which stood out for us was a tweet by a Chief Minister of a state who claimed to not know him despite having been in the same Parliamentary Committee with him.

The opposition parties have now announced their consensus presidential candidate, former Lok Sabha Speaker, Smt Meira Kumar. Through this piece, we try to give an answer to the same question which was asked of the NDA presidential nominee—

Meira Kumar, who?

A single party built around a single bloodline of leaders has ruled India for a substantial period of time post our nation’s Independence. During this period, India witnessed the phenomenon of legitimisation of dynastic transfer of political power. This phenomenon led to several externalities that we believe has caused the erosion of the democratic fabric of our nation. One such externality has been the penchant for retaining expansive bungalows and occupying prime real estate in Central Delhi for years after having lost the direct or indirect right of occupying such properties which are managed with public funds.

In the past, there have been several instances where official government housing has been retained on various pretexts by outgoing Members of Parliament (MPs). It was a common practice to convert the expansive bungalows in Central Delhi into memorials, which were then retained by the families of former politicians.

In August 2000, under the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Union Cabinet imposed a ban on conversion of government bungalows into memorials for departed leaders. The Supreme Court iterated the same view vide their judgement of July 5 2013 in the case of S D Bandi vs Divisional Traffic Officer, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation and Others, where it established that no government bungalow be transformed into memorials.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the same was reaffirmed vide decision F.No.28011/2011-W.2(Vol.II Part) of 18 October 2014, which imposed a total ban on conversion of government bungalows into memorials for departed leaders. But why after a span of 14 years, the Central Government had to reaffirm its stand on stopping the conversion of government bungalows into memorials, and despite a Supreme Court order backing it?

The reason is probably the largely unknown and highly regressive policy flip-flop practised during the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule with regard to converting government bungalows into memorials.

Now, what does any of this have to do with our presidential nominee Meira Kumar?

In August 2013, the bungalow at 6, Krishna Menon Marg, a Type VIII bungalow that represents the highest category of bungalows in Central Delhi was converted into a memorial. The bungalow was where Babu Jagjivan Ram resided until 1986 and the property was suddenly converted into a memorial for him 27 years after his demise. One of the most revered politicians of our nation, Babu Jagjivan Ram was a champion of the cause of social integration throughout his life. After he passed away in July 1986, his wife and fellow freedom fighter, Indrani Devi lived in the house till she breathed her last in April 2002.

Strangely enough, for nearly 11 years after her demise, this bungalow was not allotted to any other recipient despite the acute shortage of Type VIII bungalows in the area. Allegations flew thick and fast and one among many contradictory responses from the Urban Development Ministry to RTI applications stated:

"It is stated that a bill of Rs 1,98,22,723 was issued in the name of family of late Indrani Devi in respect of 6, Krishna Menon Marg,''

The situation became even stranger after the Urban Development Ministry withdrew the recovery notice against Meira Kumar in 2012. Even the Central Information Commission (CIC) had to ask for a disclosure on this matter due to the contradictory statements by the incumbent dispensation.

Meira Kumar is the daughter of veteran leader and freedom fighter Babu Jagjivan Ram. She was a Union Minister during the UPA 1 government (2004-2009) and later went on to become the speaker of the Lok Sabha during the tenure of UPA 2 (2009-2014). During both her tenures she continued to occupy a separate residence while the bungalow at 6, Krishna Menon Marg was kept vacant. It was only during the fag end of the UPA government’s tenure that this bungalow was converted into a memorial.

The media will extensively report on the fact that both parties have nominated a Dalit for the post over the next few days. The candidates will be compared on how many check boxes they can tick off on an arbitrary scale of ‘experience’ and genealogical traits.

It is our hope that after 70 years of Independence, our democracy has matured enough to understand the difference between those who succeed 'because' of their background and the ones who do 'despite' their background.

(All views expressed are personal)

Jayraj Pandya currently serves in the personal staff of a Union Minister, Government of India. He tweets @jayrajindia.

Shivam Shankar Singh is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. He tweets @inshivams.

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