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From House to house hunt

- Sachin picks hotel over bungalow, Aga happy with flat

New Delhi, June 9: Sachin Tendulkar has declined the Lutyen’s bungalow allotted to him as Rajya Sabha member, saying he is ready to stay in hotels for the “few days” he intends to be in Delhi.

Actress Rekha, his fellow Upper House nominee, has chosen a bungalow after being initially offered a flat in an MPs’ apartment complex. Members have the right to express preference after an initial, verbal allotment but the final decision lies with the Rajya Sabha house committee.

Pune-based industrialist-activist Anu Aga, the third Rajya Sabha member nominated on April 26, however, has gladly accepted the seventh-floor flat allotted to her.

The house committee had come under fire after offering Sachin, a first-time MP, a coveted Type 7 bungalow that happens to be bang opposite Rahul Gandhi’s residence, has five bedrooms and sprawls across 7,000 square feet. But the cricketer quickly silenced the critics.

“I am not keen on staying in any government bungalow when I will be in Delhi for only a few days,” he told CNN-IBN today.

“I feel this would be a waste of (the) taxpayer’s money and it would be better if the bungalow is allotted to someone else who needs the bungalow more than me.”

That “someone else” could very well have been Rekha, who cited lack of privacy to verbally reject the flat she had been offered at Brahmaputra Apartments in Bishamber Dayal Marg, sources said.

The committee has now allotted her a bungalow in the quieter Balwant Rai Mehta Marg. Her house is just 500 metres from Delhi’s cultural hub, Mandi House, which is home to the headquarters of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Sahitya Kala Akademi and some other cultural organisations.

However, the bungalow is yet to be vacated by Ramdas Agarwal of the BJP, whose Rajya Sabha term ended in April. Agarwal could not be reached but his private secretary Vikrant Kumar said: “We can continue to stay here till August. We have not yet received any letter from the directorate of estates asking us to vacate the house.”

Rekha’s Bollywood colleague Javed Akhtar had had to wait an entire year for the previous tenant to vacate the Lodhi Estate bungalow he had been allotted.

Sachin had been given the prime address of 5 Tughlak Lane. But he told the TV channel: “I would prefer to stay in a hotel in Delhi every time I am here in Delhi. For me, the honour of being nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP matters much more than the perks and privileges like being given a government bungalow.”

He added: “Not taking a government bungalow would not affect my responsibilities as Rajya Sabha MP. I do hope to attend a few days of Parliament every session.”

First-time MPs are generally not given bungalows but the house committee chairperson has discretionary powers. Bhubaneshwar Kalita, a Congress leader from Assam who heads the committee, refused comment but a panel member said Sachin was allotted the bungalow because he is entitled to Z-plus security.

“There are no written rules for allotment. The MPs, unlike bureaucrats, are not allotted bungalows according to seniority. The committee takes a view according to their stature and requirement,” the member said.

Although Rekha rejected the Brahmaputra Apartments flat offered to her, fellow actress Hema Malini had actually preferred a flat at the same complex to a bungalow, the member said.

“Many MPs prefer flats over bungalows because of their low maintenance,” he said. “Hema Malini wanted a flat at Brahmaputra because she would have been in Delhi for just a few days during the year.”

The newly built Brahmaputra flats offer all the modern amenities. Each has four bedrooms and is assigned two servants’ quarters located in a different block.

Aga, whom Forbes magazine had listed among the 40 richest Indians in 2007, accepted a flat at the same complex.

Like Sachin, several MPs have declined government accommodation in the past. For example, Jaya Bachchan lives in her house in Gulmohar Park. But like Rekha, many reject the accommodation they are initially allotted.

Superstitious cricket fans may have an additional reason to say a “well done” to Sachin because they might see the Tughlak Lane bungalow as a jinxed house.

The house had previously been held by BJP leader Sahib Singh Verma and former Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal. Verma and Bansi Lal’s son Surender Singh died in accidents.

Verma was killed on June 30, 2007, in a car crash on the Jaipur-Delhi highway while Surender and industrialist .P. Jindal died in a chopper crash near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh on March 31, 2005.

On one side of Rekha’s house is a crumbling bungalow that still bears the nameplate of another former Haryana chief minister, Bansi Lal, who died in June last year. The vacant bungalow’s gates remain unlocked and the lawn has become a playground for neighbourhood children — so it’s anyone’s guess how much quiet the privacy-seeking Rekha can expect.

The lone security guard said the house had been allotted to former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) but he does not live there. Only a few of his possessions are lying in the house.

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