Months after paying more than Rs 84 lakh as penal rent for overstaying in an official bungalow from the ministers’ pool, former CM and Congress leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal wants the penal rent back from the Punjab government. Bhattal paid the penal rent to get no-dues certificate from the state government to become eligible to contest February 4 Assembly elections, a pre-requisite to contest elections. She lost to former finance minister and Akali leader Parminder Singh Dhindsa from Lehra Assembly constituency.
After the Congress came to power in March this year, Bhattal approached the Amarinder Singh-government with a request to get the penal rent amount of over Rs 84 lakh back. Now, the case is set to be placed before the Cabinet for approval. File of the case was sent to General Administration department for preparing a memorandum in that regard for the cabinet meeting. According to sources, the Finance department has said no to the proposal after General Administration department sent it the file for comments before finalising the memorandum.
An official said a final decision would be taken by cabinet. Sources say that while declining that penal rent be paid to Bhattal, the Finance department has noted that approving any such move would set a bad precedent with more people demanding the penal rent back and would lead to litigation.
The penal rent, sources say, pertains to “official bungalow number 46 and is for an overstay for period of 15 months”. The said bungalow was allotted to her during her stint as Leader of Opposition during first stint of previous SAD-BJP’s two continuous terms, but Bhattal refused to vacate the bungalow and overstayed there, being an MLA during the second tenure of SAD-BJP government even as Congress named Sunil Jakhar as Leader of Opposition.
Refusing to vacate the official bungalow, Bhattal finally moved to official bungalow number 8 in sector 2 after the Badal government allotted her the official accommodation on security grounds. Before that, even the Punjab and Haryana High Court had to issue a notice directing Bhattal to vacate bungalow number 46 in a stipulated time. At present, Bhattal continues to reside in official bungalow number 8 in Sector 2.
“An Estate Court where government had moved to get the penal rent from me had dismissed the case. To contest elections, I paid the penal rent to get no-dues certificate after department concerned insisted that I pay the penal rent. I paid the penal rent in protest,” Bhattal told The Indian Express, when contacted.
“I was an MLA and former chief minister. As an MLA, I was entitled to get official accommodation. Due to security reasons, I was allotted a kothi. And I vacated it after I was allotted an alternate accommodation. As per Constitution, every MLA and MP has entitlement to get official residence,” said Bhattal.
An official, however, said that the State government had approached Estate department to get the bungalow number 46 vacated from Bhattal by moving an application under The Public Premises (Eviction of unauthorised occupants) Act, 1971. “After she vacated the house, the Estate Court dismissed State government’s plea of getting the house evicted. It was not about penal rent,” said the official.
The Amarinder Singh government is in process of introducing a policy to provide accommodation with round-the-clock Z-plus security for former CMs, as reported first by The Indian Express last month. A meeting of top officials on the issue was held recently to discuss the proposal. The move, as per the proposal, was necessitated due to “threat” to the former CMs from members of terrorist organisations who could target them in a bid to cause destabilisation.