The Delhi high court on Friday stayed the Centre's eviction notices to two Congress members of Parliament and ex- ministers, Ambika Soni and Kumari Selja, until July 2 while seeking the government's reply on whether bungalows allotted to them fell under the pool of Rajya Sabha secretariat.
Vacation judge Justice Mukta Gupta issued notice to the Ministry of Urban Development and Directorate of Estates, seeking their reply by July 2 on the plea of the two Rajya Sabha MPs, who have been asked to evict the Type-VIII bungalows allotted to them and move into Type-VII houses.
The court said the sole issue was whether accommodation fell under the general pool or that under the RS secretariat, and observed that pools cannot be ‘meddled’ with.
The two former Cabinet ministers, represented by senior advocate K T S Tulsi, have contended that as per the allotment letter issued to them, they can hold the accommodation for a month after their term as MP expires or after retirement.
Tulsi claimed that the houses fell under RS secretariat pool and the allotment was cancelled without giving them a proper hearing. Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, assisted by the central government Standing Counsel Jasmeet Singh, said that as per a 2006 allotment guidelines, Type VIII bungalows are only allotted to persons who are a former speaker and have been a former Union minister, a former governor or a former chief minister.
The ASG said the two RS MPs were eligible only for a Type VII accommodation which has been alloted to them and added that the entire proceeding prior to eviction notice was carried out as per the Public Premises Act.
He also said that four Union ministers currently do not have Type VIII accommodation and are living in Type VII flats. He further said Ram Shankar Katheria, Minister of State for Human Resources and Development, and Chaudhary Birender Singh, Union Minister of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Sanitation and Drinking Water, have been allotted the bungalows which were currently being occupied by the two RS MPs.
The government also contended that allotment to the two RS MPs made just before the United Progressive Alliance-II regime went out of power, was not valid as they had to apply for allotment after they ceased to be Union ministers.
The court, however, observed that ‘right or wrong, this (accommodation) has been allotted under RS pool’.
During the hearing, the ASG contended that the RS MPs should have appealed to the Appellate Tribunal against the Estate Office' order of May 5. But Tulsi, in response, contended that the procedure to be adopted in case of houses under RS pool was different.
He also said they had made a representation to the RS secretariat alleging breach of privilege, and the secretariat has issued notice to the government as well as has asked it to keep the eviction notice in abeyance.
Soni and Selja have submitted that asking them to vacate their bungalows on Akbar Road and Motilal Nehru Marg respectively, were a violation of their constitutional rights.
They have accused the BJP-led Centre of ‘malafide against members of the opposition’ for asking them to shift from Type VIII accommodation to Type VII. They have claimed that as per terms of allotment finalised by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat in March 2014, they are entitled to the bungalows as long as they remain an MP or till the time they retire.
Challenging the eviction, the MPs have alleged the ministry and Directorate of Estates acted in ‘collusion’ and are ‘hounding’ them to vacate the premises, even though both are entitled to the accommodation by virtue of being a RS MP and a former Cabinet minister.
They also want the court to examine list of all occupants of Type VII and Type VIII houses to verify eligibility, arguing that the eviction order was discriminatory.
The Centre had asked the Congress MPs to vacate their official bungalows by June 10 after the rejection of privilege notices sent by the two against the eviction orders served on them.