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Saturday , September 29 , 2012
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Built for VIPs, open to all

The foreign secretary stays next door and the Sri Lankan high commissioner is a few blocks away. There’s little chance you will catch Pranab Mukherjee on a morning walk but a short walk will certainly take you to the Rashtrapati Bhavan gates.

The heart of Lutyens’s Delhi is no longer just a place to see on a trip to the capital, you can stay there without having a VVIP for a relative or the cash to pay for a room in a star hotel.

Banga Bhavan II, the new VVIP guesthouse on Uma Shankar Dixit Marg in Chanakyapuri, is opening its doors to the “common man” in a departure from the original plan not to allow anybody except visiting ministers, MLAs, judges and vice-chancellors of universities in Bengal.

“We will be accepting bookings throughout the festive month of October. The period is likely to be extended, based on feedback,” said a senior official in the state secretariat.

The guesthouse, built at an estimated cost of Rs 12 crore, has 44 air-conditioned rooms spread across two interconnected buildings with basement parking. Four of those are suites that won’t be rented out. The rest of the rooms, each around 450sq ft, have well-appointed living and seating areas along with bathrooms equipped with shower cubicles.

The tariff? A steal at Rs 2,500 a day considering it is a fourth of the price of the least fancy room in any of the top hotels within a radius of two to three kilometres.

While the prod to remove the tag of exclusivity from Banga Bhavan II came from “commoner” chief minister Mamata Banerjee, it isn’t the only reason why a lucky few will get to spend a night or two there this festive season and beyond.

“Every department is busy exploring ways to generate revenue. The money that comes in won’t be much but they will add up in the long run,” an official of the finance department said.

But will a room be there for the taking without a note or a phone call from someone influential at Writers’ Buildings?

Recommendation letters will help but you don’t need to be “connected”, as they say in Delhi, to stand a chance of staying at Banga Bhavan II (see chart), say officials.

“Anyone can apply in the standard format at the Common Services Branch of the PWD at Writers’. Alternatively, an applicant can fax a request to 033-22141043 with details of the date and duration of stay along with a contact number. Bookings will be on first-come-first-served basis,” a source in Delhi said.

The old Banga Bhavan on Hailey Road, around 6km away near Connaught Place, is hugely popular with tourists because of its location, price, homely ambience and food. But getting a room isn’t easy, especially during the festive season.

The Hailey Road building has 178 rooms, the standard double-bed ones priced around Rs 600 a day. A tariff review is imminent, the source said.

The erstwhile Left Front government had built Banga Bhavan II because the old guesthouse at Chanakyapuri for VVIPs lacked adequate space, infrastructure and security. Construction began in 2008 and the facility was completed earlier this year.

Of the four suites reserved for VVIPs at Banga Bhavan II, a 2,500sq ft one is referred to as “Mamata Banerjee’s room”. The suite, more than twice the size of an average city apartment, has four bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a modern kitchen and an office.

The walls flaunt paintings by Mamata along with murals by other artists. An easel and a giant canvas have been kept ready should the chief minister be in the mood to paint.

“It will be placed at the centre of the lawn, which offers a nice view of the surroundings. We have heard that whenever Didi is tense, she unwinds by painting,” an official said.

But the chief minister has yet to see the arrangements, let alone sample them. She still prefers staying in the government flat allotted to former railway minister Mukul Roy.

A Bengal bureaucrat posted in Delhi said Mamata never liked the idea that Banga Bhavan II would be only for VVIPs. “She told us that the Trinamul government would like the common man to have the opportunity to stay there as and when rooms were vacant.”

Maintaining the facility is a costly affair and the government is banking on revenue earned from renting rooms out to ease the burden. “The tariff is pretty low compared to the top hotels located within 2-3 kilometres that offer the same standard of facilities for anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 14,000 a night,” the bureaucrat said.

Where is Banga Bhavan II?

At Chanakyapuri, in the heart of Lutyens’s Delhi.

How many rooms does the facility have?

40 standard rooms and four reserved suites, one for the CM.

Who can rent a room?

Anyone with valid identity proof that he/she is an Indian citizen but there’s an order of preference: first preference will be given to elected representatives of Bengal, then to government officials.

How to apply?

In writing to the Common Services Branch of the PWD at Writers’ Buildings or through fax to 033-22141043 with details of the arrival date, duration of stay and a contact number. The confirmation will come three days before the stay, subject to availability.

Would you choose Banga Bhavan II over a hotel? Tell