PIL highlighting retention of bungalows by ex-Ministers, Legislators
JAMMU, Sept 15: In a significant order of far reaching public importance, a Division Bench of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh comprising Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh and Justice Rajesh Sekhri has directed the petitioner’s counsel Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed and Senior AAG S S Nanda appearing for the Estates Department to furnish a list of those persons who possess houses in Jammu or in Srinagar as mentioned in the status report filed on March 28, 2023 within the meaning of Regulation 5 of J&K Estates Department (Allotment of Govt. Accommodation) Regulations, 2004.
The Estates Department in its status report dated March 28, 2023 had given a list of 48 politicians who were allowed to utilize Government Accommodation/ Ministerial Bungalows in Jammu and Srinagar cities.
These directions were passed in the much publicized Public Interest Litigation highlighting unauthorized retention of Ministerial Bungalows/A-Type Kothies/Flats/Quarters at Jammu/Srinagar by ex-Ministers/Ex-MLAs/Ex-MLCs. The PIL further seeks appropriate directions to the Estates Department to ensure the eviction of the illegal occupants from the Government accommodation in view of the dissolution of the then State Assembly in June 2018.
When this PIL came up for hearing, Advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed with Advocates Rahul Raina, Supriya Chouhan, M. Zulkarnain Chowdhary and Syed Majid Shah appearing for the petitioner drew the attention of the Division Bench towards Rule 5 of Estates Regulations, 2004 wherein it has been provided that certain category of persons are not eligible for allotment of residential accommodation including those persons who own or possess a house in the concerned city or who are in default of payment of license fee etc.
Advocate S S Ahmed further submitted that from the names of the persons to whom the Government has given accommodation, it is seen that there are many persons who own a house in Jammu or in Kashmir and thus, they are not eligible for allotment of house even under the discretionary quota.
On a specific query in the open court from the Division Bench, Advocate Ahmed submitted that there are several politicians who have their own houses in Jammu and Srinagar cities and have been allowed to retain the Ministerial Bungalows. From the compliance report dated March, 28, 2023 Advocate S.S. Ahmed in the open court read the names of 48 politicians which includes Ghulam Nabi Azad (Former CM), Shamsher Singh Manhas (Ex-MP), Muzzaffar Hussain Beigh (Ex-MP), Chander Mohan Gupta (Former Mayor JMC), Kavinder Gupta (Former Deputy CM), Sunil Sharma (Former Minister), Ravinder Raina (State President BJP), G M Saroori (Ex-MLA), Neelam Langeh (Ex-MLA), Daleep Singh Parihar (Ex-MLA), Bali Bhagat (Former Minister), Sat Sharma (Former Minister), Ravinder Sharma (Ex-MLC), Shilpy Verma (Political Person), Sajjad Gani Lone (Ex-MLA), Hakim Mohd Yaseen (Ex-MLA), Sofi Yousaf (Ex-MLC), Abdul Majid Paddar (Ex-MLA), Vikram Randhawa (Ex-MLC), Mohd Amin Bhat (Ex-MLA) and Zafar Iqbal Manhas (Ex-MLC) etc.
He vociferously argued that the Estates Department is adopting dual standards as in similar situation 200 Political Persons including two former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were evicted but special treatment is being extended to 23 politicians in Jammu city and 25 politicians in Srinagar city thereby showing complete disregard to law of the land.
Advocate Ahmed further submitted that the Division Bench vide its judgment dated December 26, 2022 in an application filed by Ch Lal Singh (Former Minister/Former MP) for retention of Government accommodation has held that Security Assessment and Entitlement to Government Accommodation are two different issues and cannot be intermingled to defeat the process of law. The Division Bench while dismissing the application filed by Ch. Lal Singh relied upon a latest judgment passed by Delhi High Court on September 14th, 2022 while rejecting the petition filed by Dr Subramaniam Swamy, Ex-Member Rajya Sabha.
After considering the submissions of Advocate S S Ahmed, the DB directed, “in order to have a clear picture, S S Ahmed, counsel for the petitioner may furnish a list of those persons who possess houses in Jammu or in Kashmir as mentioned in the status report filed on March 28, 2023, within the meaning of Regulation 5 of Regulations of 2004”.
Division Bench headed also directed Senior AAG S S Nanda appearing for the Estates Department that he shall also furnish as to whether any of the persons mentioned in the list has an alternative accommodation/ house either in Jammu or in Kashmir so that appropriate order can be passed, as it will not be permissible under law to provide accommodation to any person who has an alternative accommodation within the meaning of Rule 5 of Regulations of 2004 and the same may be done within a period of one week from today.
The Division Bench further directed the Estates Department to indicate as to the nature of the accommodation provided to the allottees to examine whether such allotment conforms to Regulation 3 of the Regulations of 2004 which classifies the type of residences to be allotted.
With these observations and directions, Division Bench directed the Registry to re-notify the instant PIL on September 25, 2023.