Priyanka Gandhi on Saturday discounted claims that the monthly rent of her government bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi was lowered on her request, asserting that the amount was determined by the then Bharatiya Janata Party government in 2002 and “was the same as for others” in the category.
A statement issued by her office said that in December 1996, Priyanka, the daughter of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and an Special Protection Group protectee, had rented a private accommodation for her residence but was directed to occupy a government accommodation on security grounds.
“In pursuance of all rules and regulations of the then BJP government, the market rate/special license fee of Directorate of Estates, has been punctually and regularly paid by her for the entire duration of her occupation of the government accommodation, including the period in question.”
“The said rent that she paid was determined by the government and was the same as for others in her category,” the statement said, after a report claimed that she managed to convince the Vajpayee government to reduce the monthly rent of her 2,765.18 square metre house in Lutyens’ Delhi from Rs 53,421 to only Rs 8,888 as it was “beyond her paying capacity”.
The BJP today took a dig at Priyanka over the issue, saying it was “laughable” that she could afford building a bungalow in Himachal Pradesh and travelling abroad but found the rent money prohibitive.
Asked about Priyanka’s statement that she paid the rent determined by the then government and same as others in her category, party’s National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said it might not be illegal but she sought “concessions” despite being capable of paying the rent.
Without going into specifics as to how much rent she paid, Priyanka in the statement merely said that multiple protectees occupying government accommodation on security grounds brought to the notice of the then BJP government that a 90 per cent increase, from one month to the next, in the year 2002 from “Market Rate/Special License Fee” to “Damages Rate” was “contrary to prevailing rules and regulations”.
Insisting that none of the said persons were unauthorised occupants of the premises, and that they were, in fact, “authorised occupants”, Priyanka, an SPG protectee, maintained that the “Damages Rate” did not apply to them.
“This error was subsequently corrected by the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation of the then BJP government pursuant to a letter and a meeting between current BJP M P Ashwini Kumar (Minna) and the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” the statement added.
The media report claimed that on May 7, 2002, Priyanka wrote to the government and said that Rs 53,421 was “too high” an amount and “beyond her paying capacity”.
Currently, she pays Rs 31,300 for accommodation in Type VI government house at 35, Lodhi Estate.
At the outset, Priyanka said that in December 1996, she had rented private accommodation for her residence and paid advance rent besides initiating renovation work in the said private rented accommodation.
“The then Director of SPG subsequently informed her of the decision of the security agencies of the government denying her occupation of the rented private accommodation on the ground that it did not fulfil the security requirements,” the statement said, listing some other reasons.
“Consequently, she was directed to occupy government accommodation on security grounds,” it said.
According to the report, not only Priyanka but also former Punjab DGP KPS Gill and All India Anti-Terrorist Front chief MS Bitta were provided accommodation on security grounds and their rents were lowered.
The BJP, meanwhile, also dragged her husband Robert Vadra into the row, saying while the controversial businessman “turned” land into gold, Priyanka found the official rent for their house “beyond her paying capacity”.
“It says a lot about Priyanka Gandhi. She wants all government facilities but she won’t pay the rent she should be. She can build a bungalow in Himachal and travel abroad. The land which her husband turns into gold but they cannot pay then rent. It is ridiculous,” the party spokesperson said.