Adviser’s ill-advised renovation spree

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Mar 08, 2015 09:51 IST

KK Sharma must be an extraordinarily simple man. When he was adviser to the Chandigarh UT administrator, he lived in a house that was not even liveable. His office, too, was in such a mess that it now needs a complete overhaul. It is indeed surprising how he managed to work from and live in structures that now need at least Rs 2 crore worth of renovation, redesign and expansion. Isn’t it?

But at least that’s the theory that the administration wants us to believe, so that it can justify the splurge on the official residence and the office complex of the adviser. It is only obvious that the current adviser, Vijay Kumar Dev, who joined at the end of last year, is not much of a fan of austerity.

Dev is currently living in the UT Guest House while the official residence has been hollowed out, leaving only the walls and ceilings. The works planned include changing the entire flooring and furniture, besides resizing the windows and installing a modular kitchen. The work comes tantalisingly close to violating norms associated with heritage structures designed by Le Corbusier’s teammates. But that’s hardly the point.

Officials insist the house is being renovated so thoroughly only because it hadn’t been done in over a decade. The previous occupant never asked for renovations during his stay, they say.

Isn’t it appalling how Dev’s worthy predecessors managed to live in the house without an entrance decorated with wood carvings? Don’t worry, like an official said when asked about the splurge, “We are not that poor a country, you know!” So, Dev is getting the fancy entrance installed too.

Tenders so far have put the cost of the exercise to around Rs 1 crore, though there have been reports that claim it would cross Rs 1.5 crore. In Rs 1 crore, one can buy three flats of the kind in which I live in a messy suburb — miles away, actually and figuratively, from the adviser’s Sector 7. That, too, without any EMIs! Maybe I and my middle-class brethren are plain jealous.

And that’s not all. For an overhaul of the UT adviser’s office in Sector 9, the administration would this week issue tenders of at least Rs 80 lakh. The work here, too, seems to suggest that KK Sharma and his predecessors worked out of a shanty. From redrawing the floor plan, to increasing the size of rooms, to a complete overhaul of interiors, the work is so pertinent that the current adviser is operating from the administrator’s designated office space for now.

Dev is not the first in what is already a long list of officials and politicians — in Chandigarh alone — who have spent a minor fortune from the taxpayer’s coffers on such renovation. Utility is often cited as the reason, but the ostentatious drawing rooms and offices themselves can tell the story better than any tender documents or journalistic stories ever would.

Behind this practice, conversations in the corridors of power reveal a new sense of modernity that’s washing over the ruling classes. The fancy houses are no longer seen as a slap on the face of the workers whose tax and toil go into satisfying their rulers’ urges. Even a sentence like that is seen as socialistic romanticism.

Remember, we are no longer a poor country! Or, maybe, we just want to believe that we aren’t.

As for the offices, that’s an even more interesting story. An officer put it in a simple, rhetorical question: “If corporates can have fancy offices, why should the government not?” It is hard to answer that without sounding sanctimonious. To know the best reply, all you have to do is visit the adviser’s under-renovation house in Sector 7 and talk to one of labourers. He’ll tell you why it’s just not fair.

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