Next to lush Nehru Park, a bungalow cleared by DJB’s ex-CEO in 2015... and still occupied by him | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Next to lush Nehru Park, a bungalow cleared by DJB’s ex-CEO in 2015... and still occupied by him

ByAlok KN Mishra
Jul 05, 2023 12:24 AM IST

While there may be no broken laws or technical violations, the unusual chain of events cements the perception of entitlement that some bureaucrats appear to carry

New Delhi In a walled-off corner of the lush Nehru Park is a prime parcel of land, adjacent to the Capital’s green lung and so enmeshed in it that it’s hard to tell them apart. On this plot, owned by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), and measuring around 12 acres, stood a clutch of houses for junior employees of the body responsible for supplying water to the city’s millions. A smattering of infrastructure – an operator cabin, a pump house and a reservoir – also stood there for years, even as one of Lutyens Delhi’s most select neighbourhoods slowly, Chanakyapuri, grew around the site.

The bungalow at Nehru Park, hidden behind foliage. (Sanjeev Verma/ HT)
The bungalow at Nehru Park, hidden behind foliage. (Sanjeev Verma/ HT)

Turn to 2015. That year, an internal proposal made its way to the table of the then DJB CEO, asking the organisation to demolish six old quarters and instead build a Type-6 bungalow, reserved usually for the highest echelons of the bureaucracy, and four smaller units. The then CEO approved the proposal but was transferred in six months, long before the authority completed the work.

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Now, turn to 2023. The house, completed in 2016, has had only one occupant since -- Sajjan Singh Yadav, the same former DJB CEO and 1995-batch IAS officer from Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre, who cleared the proposal. And Yadav, who now works as an additional secretary in the ministry of finance, continues to live there.

While there may be no broken laws or technical violations, the unusual chain of events cements the perception of entitlement that some bureaucrats – another DJB chief allegedly razed a 15th-century monument to build himself a mansion – appear to carry.

Welcome to the best-located house in Delhi, in the heart of the country’s diplomatic enclave, with one of the capital’s best parks as its backyard.

To get to the house, we walked from the Palika Services Officers Institute (PSOI) Club all along Nehru Park’s boundary to a small lane that cuts into the park and leads to a temple. From here, we walked on, which no one else is likely to because the road looks like it is going nowhere. The lane leads to a gate covered with a plastic sheet. There is no signboard.

We knocked on the gate; one opened slightly. A middle-aged man, clearly an expert at giving people discouraging looks, gave us one. Behind him we could see a large open area, and a guard cabin. We could not see beyond because there are huge white walls. And another gate. We talked our way beyond the first gate. There was a white sedan with a “Government of India” sticker on it. We could now see beyond the second gate – not much, but enough to see a huge bungalow. But the man, and a guard who emerged, while polite, were firm that we had no business being where we were. We walked back.

HT went looking for the house because we knew it was there, courtesy Google Earth, and a video clip made in 2020 (more on the provenance of the clip anon). The video shows a bungalow surrounded by huge lawns, tree stumps forming garden furniture, and a large fenced-off vegetable garden.

Yadav confirmed the presence of the bungalow, its location, and the fact that it stood on DJB land, and was constructed by the agency. He also admitted that he cleared the proposal for the project, which he said cost 3.25 crore.

“As you enter the DJB premises from the main gate, the entrance to the bungalow where I live sits right in front of the main gate. A road on the right takes you to the other four DJB houses which have been constructed along with the bungalow and are occupied by DJB employees,” Yadav said.

He said the 2015 proposal before him suggested demolishing three type-I and three type-2 quarters and build one type-6, two type-1 and two type-2 quarters in their place.

“As DJB CEO I had granted administrative approval for over 100 projects during my tenure and this project was one of them. Out of the five quarters, the Type-6 quarter was allotted to me much later, on completion of construction, in lieu of a similar DJB quarter (bungalow) in Chandrawal Water Works, which I was occupying since 2002,” he said.

“The house allotted to me is not the only independent house (bungalow) owned by Delhi government or government agencies. There are around 100 such bungalows…allotted to officers as per their eligibility. It is likely that the permission to construct/repair many of them was given by the officers who are living or have lived in these bungalows,” he added.

The bungalow -- HT’s reporting, Google Earth, and a 2020 complaint to Delhi’s lieutenant governor (LG) show -- stands near a DJB pump house.

Yadav said the pump house is still inside the bungalow complex. “The five houses were constructed by demolishing six old, dilapidated houses which were unsafe to occupy. The DJB operator cabin, pump house and other assets were not demolished and are still there,” he added.

He also contested speculation that the bungalow was inside Nehru Park and rules were flouted in its construction.

“Permission from the competent authority is obtained by the engineer concerned. At any point in time, DJB executes more than 100 buildings and other works. It has various project divisions headed by senior engineers who oversee all these works and ensures that the construction protocol is followed and necessary permissions are taken from the competent authorities. It is not correct to say that most of the permissions were not taken,” he said.

He, however, did not dispute the peculiar circumstances that led the person who approved a bungalow in one of Delhi’s best locations to end up being its only occupant even after seven years.

On February 20, 2020, Daman-based journalist Satish Sharma submitted a complaint to the then Delhi lieutenant governor (HT has seen a copy of the complaint) about the house.

“During a visit, I came to know that Sajjan Singh Yadav misused his position as DJB CEO and constructed a bungalow inside Nehru Park by demolishing a DJB pump house in the name of renovating the pump house. No permission for construction was taken from NDMC and the forest department. He also got 40-50 trees felled,” the complainant said.

It is not known what the then LG did.

In 2020, the National Green Tribunal imposed a fine of 3.8 lakh on DJB for illegally felling three trees and pruning 10 trees at an address mentioned as Bungalow 1, Hasanpur Towar (near Nehru Park) in Chanakyapuri after Delhi’s principal chief conservator of forest submitted a status report confirming the illegality. The address probably refers to the nomenclature of the pump house.

NGT’s directions came on a petition by Sharma.

Yadav defended himself against Sharma’s complaint. “I was posted in Daman & Diu from March 2017 to August 2019 and Mr Sharma, who is a habitual complainant, had a personal grudge against me and tried to implicate me falsely. No tree was cut/pruned within the premises of my house. So, no notice was issued to me by NGT,” he said.

Over the last few weeks, HT met several officers to try to gather documents to understand more about the building

One official said it was not clear how the bungalow got water, sewerage, and electricity supply . Yadav said the quarters were constructed legally and all amenities already existed.

“The quarters, including the one which has been allotted to me have been constructed legally. The water and sewerage facility and electricity supply were in existence since the time of old quarters. The new occupants have availed services from the existing facilities in their name,” he added.

A second government official said that many officers in DJB know about the Nehru Park bungalow. “The Nehru Park bungalow is bigger than the bungalow built by another CEO -- Udit Prakash Rai -- in Jal Vihar (Lajpat Nagar) by demolishing a 15th century monument.”

Yadav said his house occupies only around 2,000 square metres of space. That is around half an acre.

On HT’s visit we saw the tall DJB tank (or reservoir), and three of the four other houses – two occupied by low-ranking staff of DJB and the third , bigger than the other two , occupied by a DJB official. All three dwellings were separated by tall walls.

We found that the bungalow is well-known among the gardeners, guards, and other people working in PSOI club, and in nearby facilities. “I know about the building for the last seven years. It has been a talking point …but the entry to the bungalow has been restricted,” one of the people said.

The fact that they know of the bungalow isn’t a surprise. Delhi, after all, is a city where there are really no secrets.

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