The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From abode of judges to guest house

It’s the grand white house of Salt Lake City — 45,000 square feet of residential real estate, built at a cost of Rs 9 crore two years ago. And it’s all but empty, as the Calcutta High Court judges who were to have moved in are now reluctant to do so. So, part of the prime estate will be converted into an elite guest house.

Just four of the 18 spacious, air-conditioned flats in Bijan Bhawan, the multi-storeyed government building in HA Block, has found takers. State law minister Nisith Adhikary said the government, realising that it had created something of a ‘white elephant’, has drawn up plans to convert a section of Bijan Bhawan into a guest house for VIPs.

“We are planning to put it to productive use as a special state guest house. The original purpose of providing accommodation for judges has been defeated following the change of rules with regard to the appointment of high court judges,” Adhikary added.

The government had created the sprawling Salt Lake housing complex as the rules prevailing then required the state to provide “fully-furnished accommodation for judges” who would come to serve here from other states. Two years ago, at least a third of the serving judges in the high court had to come from outside the state. This has since been changed, resulting in demand dipping below supply. “All 18 flats would have been occupied, had the rules not been changed,” asserted Adhikari.

“With the Centre deciding that judges be appointed from the same states, the 18 flats can never be fully occupied. When the judges have stopped coming from outside Bengal, there is no point keeping reserved housing options for them. For, most judges here would prefer staying on in their own houses,” said a retired high court judge.

“Another reason the complex remains unoccupied is low security,” said a serving judge, on condition of anonymity. “A judge and his family fall into the high-risk category and so extra security arrangements should be made.”

Bijan Bhawan is a big drain on the exchequer because of the high maintenance cost. According to plans drawn up to date, eight of the 18 flats will house non-judicial VIPs. While two will be used as accommodation for guests of the high court, eight will be kept for Calcutta High Court.

“When the chief justice will ask for accommodation for judges coming from another states, we will put them up in two flats. Another two apartments will remain vacant, to be used by officials of Calcutta High Court,” said a member of the state judicial department.

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