New Delhi, Sept. 23: Gireesh Kumar Sanghi, former Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh, may not have made headlines during his tenure but he did shake the earth for a while.
He is the only MP to have demolished his official bungalow and erected a larger and plusher one in its place.
He did it spending Rs 4 crore of his own money and hiring a private builder, say his staff and sources in the central public works department (CPWD), which stood mute spectator to the illegal venture for seven years, as did the urban development ministry and the Rajya Sabha secretariat.
Now, two years and three months after the expiry of his term, the former MP who has returned to being a businessman continues to occupy the 18-room mansion that boasts a gym, a home theatre and a sauna.
“CPWD had informed about the illegal construction in the house allotted to Shri Sanghi,” said Prem Singh, deputy director of the Rajya Sabha secretariat, in reply to an RTI application moved by The Telegraph.
“According to their report, (the) entire bungalow was demolished and a double-storeyed building was erected unauthorisedly, which covered a much bigger area than the original one thereby violating local building bye-laws and LBZ (Lutyens Bungalow Zone) regulations.”
The man himself dismissed his actions as “repairs” and denied violating any rules.
“There is no violation. We have repaired the bungalow and it is in perfect condition now. We have not increased the area of the bungalow,” he told this newspaper.
He vaguely hinted at moving out sometime “soon” but denied he had wasted his money, although he didn’t say how much he had spent.
“This is a government property and whatever money I have spent on the bungalow can be utilised (its results can be enjoyed) by the next occupant. So I have not wasted money,” he said.
Since the construction is illegal, the CPWD will have to demolish the building if and when it gets the house back.
According to his personal staff at the mansion, Sanghi does not like hotels and has a house in every city he has to frequent on business. He now visits Delhi only on business trips.
Sanghi is managing editor of Telugu daily Vartha and one of the promoters of the Hyderabad-based Sanghi group whose interests cover textiles, plastic, leather and cement.
He won his Rajya Sabha seat as a Congress member on June 22, 2004, apparently on the strength of donations he had made towards Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s successful Assembly polls campaign a month earlier. After YSR’s death in 2009, he failed to get a re-nomination in June 2010.
Sanghi has never contested popular elections and, his staff say, doesn’t ever want to.
Sanghi was first allotted bungalow No. 40 in Ashoka Road but it could not be vacated. At his request, he was given bungalow No. 7 in Talkatora Road on March 19, 2005, and took possession on April 4.
The original Type 6 bungalow — with a floor area of 500sqm, three bedrooms, a hall and an office room — was demolished soon after. The new building’s exact built-in area could not be ascertained.
In corporate style, a reception counter has been arranged in the first room, which leads to an office with workstations for Sanghi’s staff. This room leads to Sanghi’s own office, which opens into the drawing room — an old-era ballroom decked out with the choicest chandeliers and looking out onto a lush green lawn.
Four sitting arrangements and big mirrors add to the room’s look of grandeur. Pictures of Sanghi and his family grace the mantelpiece.
If the drawing room has a white marble floor, the dining area is paved with pale yellow marble. The teakwood dining table is meant for a dozen guests.
“A Type 6 bungalow usually has either cement flooring or merely marble-chip flooring,” said a CPWD engineer.
The fašade, painted in white and red, apes other government bungalows, hiding the opulence inside.
“This is a government area and we could not have constructed like a private bungalow. We have been very careful and have constructed it in a way so that it looks similar to all the other bungalows in this row,” one of Sanghi’s aides said.
In the same row stands President Pranab Mukerjee’s erstwhile residence, 13 Talkatora Road, just the way the CPWD had provided it without a single additional construction.
The roof of a Lutyens bungalow is generally 18 feet above the ground. “We built two floors, each 10 feet high. It’s hardly a violation since the building is just two feet higher than the original design,” the aide added.
Under Delhi’s master plan, no constructions or modifications are allowed in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone without permission. The CPWD sent several notices but it knew as well as the MP did that it was toothless.
“We don’t have any physical force. All we could have done was file an FIR and seek help from police to evict him. But since Sanghi had political support, who would risk initiating such a process?” a senior CPWD official said.
The CPWD says Sanghi restricted the entry of its engineers into the house, putting it “out of our bounds”, so the department did not know what exactly he had done to the structure.
An embarrassed Congress had formed a joint parliamentary committee way back in 2006 to look into the illegal construction but the panel is yet to hand in its report.
Living on government property without entitlement flouts the Public Premises Act, 1971, under which occupants must vacate their house within thirty days of receiving an eviction notice — after paying rent at the market rate for the period of illegal occupancy.
The allottee has also to pay for any damages to the building during his stay. The estate officer can dispose of any property the occupant leaves behind through a public auction after giving him a 14-day notice.
After his term lapses, an MP usually gets a two-month extension which can be further extended at the discretion of the Parliament secretariat. Sanghi got four extensions on the trot but even the fourth expired on February 28, 2011.
“Since he did not vacate the bungalow even after expiry of the allotment period, the directorate of estates, ministry of urban development, was requested to initiate eviction proceedings under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, to get accommodation vacated, vide letter dated 18th August, 2012, which is still pending,” the RTI reply said.
Sanghi and his staff say they have not received any eviction notice.