Bhubaneswar, Dec. 13: Luxury is hard to give up, and the Orissa government has realised it the hard way.
Meet Bikram Keshari Deo, BJP parliamentarian from Kalahandi. The scion of the erstwhile Kalahandi royal family was allotted a Type-7 government quarter in the Unit-1 Area when he was a member of the legislative Assembly in 1995. In March 1998, he became an MP and the rules required him to vacate the sprawling bungalow within a month.
Cut to December 2004. Deo is sitting pretty like many others of his ilk. While his outstanding rent has gone up to Rs 6.78 lakh, Deo says he hasn't vacated the house on medical grounds.
VIPs in Orissa have for long ignored the directives of the general administration department and the Assembly secretariat, which have repeatedly asked politicians to vacate their quarters on time.
With the state administration unable to make the VIPs comply with its order, the Supreme Court had to step in and ask the government to submit a list of illegal occupants. The government, in its affidavit, revealed that there are 279 illegal occupants of government premises, including 21 MLAs, MPs, former chief ministers and an IAS officer.
Once the VIPs get used to the comfort and status of these 'power addresses', they find it hard to give them up even after their terms expire. Typically, these bungalows are built on plots ranging between 3500 and 4000 sq ft with well-manicured lawns, three or four bedrooms, a dining room and servants' quarters.
Deogarh MP Dharmendra Pradhan continues to occupy a Type-6 house at Master Canteen Square in the heart of the city. In April, the general administration department served an eviction notice on Pradhan and clubbed a penalty with his rent. But Pradhan sought more time as he had to 'meet the education expenses of his daughter'. Now, he owes the government Rs 23,968 towards rent for six months.
During the period of legal occupancy, these VIPs pay a flat rent, which is nominal given the size and comfort of the bungalows. However, if they do not vacate the houses, the rent goes up 10 times.
The list of illegal occupants cuts across party lines. Some of the 'noted' offenders are former CPI legislator Dyutikrushna Panda, former Congress minister and PCC spokesperson Prasad Harichandan, former BJD legislator Debashis Samantray and former Assembly Speaker Chintamani Dyansamantray.
Three former chief ministers, including Hemananda Biswal and Giridhar Gomango, refused to vacate their quarters after the general administration department cancelled their allotment in June.
Not only politicians, but bureaucrats too are reluctant to vacate their houses. C.T.M. Suguna, collector of Mayurbhanj district, continues to occupy a bungalow in the Unit-9 area. Suguna was allotted the house while she was the director of the Orissa Health System Development Project.
She became the Mayurbhanj collector in September 2003 but did not vacate the bungalow here. When contacted over phone, an additional tehsildar of Baripada said, 'She hasn't vacated the house as she is due for a promotion. She will be transferred to Bhubaneswar soon.'