If expelled MP Mahua Moitra is forced out of bungalow, why not others?
Ghulam Nabi Azad still sits pretty, while the Trinamool leader's plea for relief was rejected by Delhi High Court. Are such evictions arbitrary or is there a pattern?
Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra complied with the eviction notice she received from the Directorate of Estates (DoE) on Tuesday, 16 January, and vacated her government-allotted Delhi bungalow on Friday, 19 January. This while she was in seriously poor health per reports from various news agencies.
Meanwhile, netizens were quick to point out that others, like Ghulam Nabi Azad, who ceased to be an MP 3 years ago, still occupies the government bungalow that had been allotted to him when he was in fact a member of the Lok Sabha. (He isn't the only one either.)
Moitra, who was expelled as a Lok Sabha MP in December 2023, fully vacated the residence by 10 a.m. on Friday, because an official team arrived to presumably 'escort' her out, with her lawyers officially handing over possession to the Directorate of Estates.
Moitra's lawyers, as reported by the Hindustan Times on Friday, had submitted this plea on her behalf: 'Whatever you wish to charge, I am ready to pay. Don’t throw me out. I have a medical condition. I am being treated at Medanta Hospital here and was in ICU. I have no other house in Delhi. Treat it as my mercy petition. I am pleading for mercy.'
Her lawyers also reportedly said that she was on bed rest at this time, unable to even move unassisted in bed.
A report in the Wire claimed she had had a major surgery recently.
While many on social media shared images and video of Moitra walking out of her bungalow with a police cordon around it, implying they were from the day itself, actual video footage from agencies such as ANI do not place Moitra herself at the scene.
Despite her attempts to seek relief from the Delhi High Court on Thursday, 18 January, where she sought to stay the DoE notice, Moitra's plea was rejected.
The court emphasised that no specific rule addressing the eviction of MPs from government accommodation after they cease to be lawmakers had been presented.
Moitra's expulsion from the Lok Sabha occurred following an ethics panel's determination of her "unethical conduct", speaking to her alleged acceptance of gifts from businessman Darshan Hiranandani and the sharing with him of her login credentials for the Parliament website used to submit questions to the House.
The panel's investigation was prompted by a complaint filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, accusing Moitra of posing questions in the Lok Sabha that targeted the Adani Group and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the behest of rival Hiranandani.
Also involved in the drama was Dubey's advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai, apparently an 'ex' of Moitra's and supposedly the original owner of her dog Henry!
Expelled from the Lok Sabha on 8 December, Moitra was initially directed to vacate the premises by 7 January, following the revocation of her allotment.
It is certainly worth noting that while Moitra, a vocal critic of PM Modi, was asked to vacate her official residence immediately after losing her Lok Sabha membership, there are leaders who have been allowed to retain government-allotted residences despite not being members of any house of Parliament any longer.
Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who quit the Indian National Congress and has since publicly endorsed Modi’s policies on many occasions, is one such example.
In March 2023, Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan was also served a notice of eviction from the bungalow allotted to his late father, Ram Vilas Paswan.
Former education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' was another who was also instructed to vacate his bungalow.
Yet the evictions of others have taken months and years in the past, even required Supreme Court intervention in 2014 to clean Lutyens Delhi of 'squatters'.
In 2020, when another Congress leader, Priyanka Gandhi, was asked to vacate her government bungalow, it was on the ground that she no longer had a Special Protection Group (SPG) assigned. Yet, similar accommodation was still allotted in Lutyens’ Delhi for senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi—neither of whom had any SPG cover either, nor held any parliamentary or other official position.
Indeed, based on the 'threat perception' argument, Advani gets his to keep his bungalow for life.
The reason behind the security risk is purportedly Advani and Joshi's involvement in events in the run-up to the Babri Masjid demolition. However, none of the other BJP or Hindutva leaders who were named in the court case seemed to have been accorded such unusual protections.
There are of course specific circumstances for a former MP no longer holding a government office to continue in their allotted residence. The updated rules of 2019 allow former incumbents 3 days' time to make a case for their continued residence, and in some instances a person who takes up another office may be allowed to continue as well.
Often, a 'private person' so allocated will occupy a different category of bungalow than the one they had as an MP, however.
Over a period from 2020 to 2022, a number of senior Indian artistes who had been honoured with awards as well as accommodation by previous government orders were also evicted. In 2014, the Modi government stopped renewing such allotments every 3 years. Notably, the eviction drive began at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many, who had made these bungalows their home for decades, were appalled at the orders requiring them to be 'turned out' in their old age. Padma Vibhushan Kathak master Birju Maharaj (originally allotted 1978) threatened to return all his awards; he died in January 2022.
The 91-year-old Padma Shri awardee Guru Mayadhar Raut tried to move the court and was seen to be escorted out in frail health before the hearings were concluded, all belongings cast out on the streets summarily, in a series of images that went viral at the time.
Painter Jatin Das, dancer Bharati Shivaji, lithographer K.R. Subanna and classical singer Wasifuddin Dagar were among the others affected in that round of evictions.
Illness and security are amongst the possible reasons that have precedent for 'private persons' to enjoy continued residence being allowed by the parliamentary committee.