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Mamata leaves with a plot

- Trinamul gets alternative land for office before pullout

New Delhi, Sept. 22: Mamata Banerjee may have failed to prevail on the Centre on economic decisions but she has one achievement to show for her stint as a UPA-II ally: a 1,000sqm plot for a Trinamul office in upscale New Delhi.

Ironically, the piece of land along Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg brings her face to face with the country’s other powerful Miss M, whose importance to the Centre has risen as Mamata’s has fallen with her pullout of support. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party has its office plot just across the road.

Originally, the Trinamul Congress had been allotted a larger plot of 1,080sqm elsewhere in the same street in March last year. But for 18 months, it could not take possession because of encroachments by slum dwellers and politically connected scrap dealers.

Repeated requests to the urban development ministry failed to solve the problem despite Trinamul’s Saugata Roy being a junior minister with the department then.

In the end, Mamata showed her clout — for perhaps the last time during this government’s tenure — calling up urban development minister Kamal Nath sometime before the current controversy broke and requesting a fresh plot free of encroachments.

“We agreed to give the party a replacement plot,” a senior ministry official said. Nath has signed the allotment letter.

The new plot has a Bengali connection: it lies next to the famous Minto Road Kalibari, venue of one of the most important Durga Pujas in the capital. Trinamul has decided to begin construction after the Puja season.

The party now functions out of former railway minister Mukul Roy’s official bungalow in South Avenue, from where the party’s ministers had set out for the Prime Minister’s and President’s residences yesterday, to resign and to withdraw support to the government.

Sources said that over the past 18 months, it was Mukul who pursued the matter of the plot rather than Saugata, the most efficient among the Trinamul ministers and the most frequent flier.

Saugata recently toured Japan and the US to learn about better printing technology --- the urban development ministry is responsible for printing all gazette notifications. Earlier this year, he had travelled to Paris to study the new transport technology being used in Europe.

Ministry officials said no other land application from any political party was pending. Earlier this month, the ministry had bent rules to sanction a 500sqm plot for the Forward Bloc despite the party failing to meet the criterion of having at least 11 MPs in both Houses combined.

In 2006, following a Supreme Court direction, the ministry had formulated a policy to get political parties to take their offices out of the Lutyens Bungalow Zone. Most parties now have their Delhi headquarters in bungalows once allotted to their MPs.

The parties had to meet two criteria: one, a tally of at least 11 MPs and two, recognition from the Election Commission as a national party. The size of the plots depended on the parties’ strength in Parliament.

The Congress, with over 200 MPs, has been allotted 15,000sqm. Trinamul has 26 MPs in all. So far, no party has closed its Lutyens Zone office though all those eligible have received plots and most have finished constructing offices on the new plots.