Even as it battles allegations of office-of-profit against its ministers, the Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has come under the scanner over multiple government bungalows occupied by a couple of them.
Fifteen months after the BJP government took over reins in Maharashtra, Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde continues to occupy a government bungalow in Nariman Point allotted to him when he was leader of Opposition in the legislative council during the Congress-NCP reign.
Senior officials confirmed that Tawde has been reluctant to vacate it even after taking possession of a bungalow, Sevasadan, in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill that he is entitled to as a cabinet minister. According to norms of the General Administration Department (GAD), which Fadnavis heads, Tawde should have vacated the previous accommodation within a month of demitting office as the Opposition leader in the Legislative Council.
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In the case of state Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse — in what is perhaps the first such case of such allotment — sources confirmed that the GAD has allotted a government accommodation in Nariman Point in addition to a bungalow, Ramtek, in Malabar Hill. A senior government official, who wished not to be named since he is not authorised to talk to the media, said Khadse’s office demanded additional allotment to the minister arguing he was entitled to it in his capacity as the ex-officio chairman of the Pune-based Maharashtra Council of Agricultural Education and Research (MCAER), a state-run enterprise. “This is the first occasion that a sitting minister has been provided an additional accommodation for holding an ex-officio chairman’s post in a state-run enterprise,” the senior official said.
The Opposition has been targetting the government over violation of ministers code-of-conduct after The Indian Express last week highlighted how several ministers continued to hold directorships in private enterprises.
It has now raised the red flag over the bungalow allotment row. Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said, “This proves yet again that the government has been functioning in an arbitrary manner. The ministers have no regard for conduct rules, and do not care about the general public. The Chief Minister is ‘powerless’ and can’t get his ministers to toe the line.”
Tawde, when contacted, said the Nariman Point facility was being used as an office for the convenience of the masses. “The state legislature is currently in session and restrictions on public entry to our offices in Vidhan Bhavan are in place. It is difficult to meet a lot of people in the Mantralaya. An office near Mantralaya and Vidhan Bhavan is for the convenience of the people,” he said. Tawde argued that since he held multiple ministerial portfolios, the queue of people for grievance redressal before him was much bigger. Tawde added “it had just been less than three months since I was allotted the bungalow in Malabar Hill.” He said, “All rents to be paid for extended stay (at the Nariman Point facility) are being paid by me. A legal opinion was also sought in this regard.”
Khadse’s office, too, maintained that additional accommodation was being used as an office for meeting the public. “It becomes difficult at times for the minister to meet everyone in his Mantralaya office. It is also often inconvenient for people to come all the way to the Malabar Hill bungalow,” said Khadse’s close aide. Khadse remained unavailable for comment.
“Norms say a minister is entitled to just one official bungalow. But ministers in this government are clinging onto multiple bungalows. There is no precedence of any such occurrence,” said Opposition leader in the legislative council Dhananjay Munde. Chavan argued against the justification offered by the ministers. “By that excuse, every minister in the government can claim a right to multiple accommodations,” he said.