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It was a decision that perhaps awaited a change in the government — both in the state and at the Centre. While the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress regime in Rajasthan and the UPA-II government at the Centre had failed to reach a decision over who should occupy Bikaner House in the capital, the BJP government in Rajasthan and at the Centre has succeeded to bury the contention pending for many decades.
The BJP-led NDA government assured the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it was willing to hand over full occupancy of the sprawling complex — within walking distance of India Gate — to Vasundhra Raje-led Rajasthan government and sought time until August to pack its bags.
Appearing before a bench of Justices, A R Dave and Vikramjit Sen, Additional Solicitor General, Maninder Singh, representing the Centre, promised the court that the Central government would shift its offices to some other location in the capital and vacate the building in a month’s time.
The bench appeared satisfied with the Centre’s submission and fixed the matter to August 28 after giving further time to the government.
The Rajasthan government had laid its claim to the building last year by filing a petition in the Supreme Court. The UPA government had then assured the court that the governments would amicably resolve the dispute but no conclusive arrangement was reached.
Representing Rajasthan government, Additional Advocate General, S S Saraswat and Manish Singhvi had earlier contended that the Centre had been holding a major portion of the building despite its repeated promises to vacate it. They told the court that the Centre has been squatting over 1.20 lakh square feet of the bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi.
The correspondence between the Centre and state government dated back to 1979 when the Rajasthan sought occupation of the entire building so that it could open its guest house there. The Centre, however, had subsequently requested all the successive chief ministers — Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Jagannath Pahadia and Shiv Charan Mathur — to allow its offices to continue on the Bikaner House premises.
While it later vacated some parts of the building, a major portion was still occupied by the Centre, prompting the Rajasthan government to knock on the court’s door. The Central government has been running about 10 offices, including offices of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Central Government Health Scheme, National Tiger Conservation Authority, from the premises.