Only two given accommodation for life
In Advani’s case, this is a function of the significant positions he has held in government as well as an assessment of the security threats he faces, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. In Bitta’s case, it is just the threat factor.Updated: Jul 03, 2020 09:52 IST
Against the backdrop of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being asked to vacate her government accommodation, HT learns that there are only two people who have been given government accommodation for life despite not holding a government post: former deputy prime minister LK Advani and former Youth Congress president MS Bitta.
In Advani’s case, this is a function of the significant positions he has held in government as well as an assessment of the security threats he faces, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. In Bitta’s case, added this person who is involved in the decision-making process, it is just the threat factor.
LK Advani stays at an allotted bungalow on Prithviraj Road while Bitta, who has been targeted by terrorists in the past, stays on Talkatora Road.
”As per extant policy, private persons other than SPG (Special Protection Group) protectees are not entitled to be allotted government accommodation on security ground. However, CCA (Cabinet Committee on Accommodation) makes certain exceptions based on threat perceptions to individuals,’’ said an internal government note which has been reviewed by HT. In Priyanka Gandhi’s case, the indications are that the threat perception wasn’t significant enough.
In November, the government decided that the SPG would only protect the current Prime Minister and his family and the former PM and their family for five years . The change meant that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi would be protected by the Central Reserve Police Force. And under government policy, only those individuals not holding a government post who are under SPG cover are entitled to government accommodation.
Responding to the charges of “revenge politics” driving the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs notice to Priyanka Gandhi on Wednesday, the official also clarified that former Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi has his government accommodation for two more years, till 2022. Joshi continues to stay in the Raisina Road house he used to occupy as a senior minister and a member of Parliament. Priyanka Gandhi has never been a MP, nor held any government post.
”These decisions are taken by the CCA with inputs given by the ministry of home affairs. In Advaniji’s case, his threat perception continues due to the ongoing Babri Masjid demolition case. He was also the deputy prime minister, and so the decision was taken last year that he would be given the accommodation for his life,’’ said the official . “In Joshi’s case, it was again his involvement in the Babri Masjid case but that cannot be endless and that’s why it was decided to grant him accommodation till June 2022.’’
The official pointed out that Bitta’s security threat was assessed as high because of the continuing threat from Khalistani forces to his life. He was severely injured and 13 others were killed in an attack in Amritsar in 1992.
”I don’t know the details of Priyanka Gandhi’s case but my case is not political,’’ said Bitta.”I neither request for security, nor is there any lobbying. They automatically clear my case because of security threats.’’
The opposition on Thursday kept up its attack on the government. Deputy chief minsiter of Rajasthan Sachin Pilot tweeted: “Many leaders are provided govt accommodation on security grounds despite not holding any office.Targeting Priyanka Gandhi is clearly political.Removing SPG &serving eviction notice esp during an endemic,can’t be the priority when so many burning issues are confronting the country.’’
HT has learnt that Wednesday’s order for Priyanka Gandhi’s eviction from 35, Lodhi Estate, came after a flurry of exchanges between the Urban development ministry and the home ministry over the past seven months. It started when the government removed SPG cover from the Gandhis in November last year, giving them Z-plus CRPF cover instead. The final MHA letter this week clarified that such protectees do not get government accommodation if they don’t hold public office.
While the Congress has accused the government of pettiness , the official cited in the first instance said that they expected Priyanka Gandhi to have moved out of her own. “When Vajpayeeji died in 2018, Hardeep Puri (minister of housing) met his daughter and son-in-law Namita and Ranjan Bhattacharya and offered them alternative accommodation as they were SPG protectees but they refused,’’ said the official.
Namita Bhattacharya declined comment on the matter.
”This is just like the time when Indira Gandhi was evicted from her house after she lost the election in 1977,’’ said Aradhna Mishra, the Congress legislative party leader in Uttar Pradesh. ”Priyanka has been raising issues that matter to people and they want to suppress her voice.’’
BJP leader Gopal Agarwal tweeted, “Who is @priyankagandhi Priyanka Vadra? Is she holding a constitutional seat? Why does your party promote a culture where the hard earned public money is thrown away for the comforts of ‘One Family’?”