It was a step which was long overdue. The Union cabinet has cleared amendments to the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act to ensure that our parliamentarians and bureaucrats don’t use their clout to flout accommodation norms. The amendments will ensure that ministers, Members of Parliament and bureaucrats do not continue to overstay their welcome in government bungalows even after their term is over. They’ll also have to pay steep penalties. Anybody overstaying beyond five months, for instance, will have to pay a fine of Rs 10 lakh.
At present, a former minister can hold on to official accommodation for a month after demitting office. Once the stipulated time to vacate the house is over, the urban development ministry takes about two months to begin eviction proceedings. This gave ample time to squatters to get a stay and stall eviction. The amendments will ensure that the ministry begins eviction proceeding within three days after the stipulated time given to a former MP or a retired official is over.
About 70 officials have moved the courts and continue to occupy government premises for two years beyond the due date for vacating them. Former ministers and senior Congress leaders Ambika Soni and Kumari Selja are among those who’ve unsuccessfully tried to get relief from action against overstaying.
Around the world, in most democracies, the concept of official accommodation, except for the president or prime minister, is unheard of. In India, on the other hand, not only do politicians and bureaucrats take this perk for granted, they also shamelessly squat on official accommodation long after eviction notices are served. Last year, a Right to Information reply revealed that as many as 60 parliamentarians owed close to Rs 1 crore as rental charges for overstaying in government accommodation long after leaving office.
Since it assumed power in May 2014, the NDA government has evicted about 1,500 officials and MPs. It is a departure from earlier governments that chose to ignore the transgressions of VIPs holding on to prime real estate in Lutyens’ Delhi. Although moves such as banning the red beacon on politicians’ vehicles and evicting netas are mostly symbolic, they go a long way in sending out the signal that the government is gradually doing away with the culture of undue perks and privileges for VIPs.