In the run up to the presidential election, the former Lok Sabha speaker may have to answer questions about how she had a bungalow converted into a memorial for her father.
New Delhi: Meira Kumar has been selected as the joint presidential candidate of 17 opposition parties but in the run up to voting on July 17, besides competing with NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, the former Lok Sabha speaker will also have to contend with some unfinished business from the past – the manner in which she had a government bungalow on 6, Krishna Menon Marg in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi converted into a memorial for her father, Jagjivan Ram.
A former deputy prime minister and defence minister of India, Jagjivan Ram (1908-986) was a veteran freedom fighter and Dalit politician who served in Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet and remained in the Congress throughout before breaking with Indira Gandhi as the Emergency ended in 1977 to set up the Congress for Democracy. The place of his cremation on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi is memorialised as Samtha Sthal.
Bungalow allotted on lease for 25 years to foundation
Kumar had pushed for the creation of another memorial to her father at the bungalow while she was Union minister for social justice in the UPA-I government and Lok Sabha speaker during the UPA-II government. Her efforts raised a controversy since there were specific government guidelines and court orders that disallowed such a move. Also, RTI queries have revealed that Kumar deliberately kept her late brother Suresh Ram’s daughter, Medhavi Kirti, out of the list of “family” members in the Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation (BJRNF), to which the bungalow was finally allotted in August 2013 for 25 years, which raises questions about whether the foundation is essentially a cover for one branch of the former deputy prime minister’s family to exercise control over a prime property.
According to RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, who has been pursuing the matter for many years, “Meira Kumar used her ministerial post as Union minister for social justice and empowerment by setting up the BJRNF from funds available from the ministry.”
The main task of the foundation Meira Kumar set up, said Agrawal, was to “organise birth and death anniversaries” on every April 5 and July 6 respectively, in memory of her late father. These anniversaries were also organised at 6, Krishna Menon Marg “even when it was an unauthorised memorial” and had been “encroached and trespassed” by her, he said.
Later, the same bungalow was allotted to the Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation in the last days of the UPA-I government bypassing all norms set in the year 2000 notification of the Union Cabinet, Agrawal said. The Cabinet had on August 6, 2000 decided that no bungalow in the future could be converted into a memorial.
Supreme Court had banned memorials in government houses
The allotment had ironically also happened just a month after a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that no memorial could be housed in government houses earmarked for residential accommodation. But the UPA government under Manmohan Singh found a way to bypass the apex court order by leasing 6, Krishna Menon Marg to the BJRNF in August 2013 for 25 years.
The allotment was made by the Directorate of Estates (DoE) to the foundation, which was formed in 2008.
It was perhaps with this precedent in mind that Ajit Singh, a former minister in the UPA government who lost his seat in parliament in 2014 and was facing eviction from his official residence at 12, Tughlaq Road, sought to convert his house into a memorial for his late father, Charan Singh, a former prime minister. His plea was rejected by the Narendra Modi government, as was the attempt by Neeraj Shekhar, son of another former prime minister, Chandrashekhar, to convert 3, South Avenue Lane, into a memorial for his father.
Jagjivan Ram was the last official occupant of the bungalow and he resided there till his demise in 1986. It was later allotted to Kumar after she became a Union minister in the UPA-I government in 2004. Prior to that, according to information obtained by Chandra from the urban development ministry on September 22, 2016, the bungalow was transferred to the pool for MP’s housing on September 6, 1996.
On becoming Lok Sabha speaker on June 4, 2009, Kumar moved to the speaker’s official residence at 20, Akbar Road. But, as per records maintained by the central public works department (CPWD), which is responsible for upkeep of central government bungalows, she continued to retain the 6, Krishna Menon Marg property.
Documents accessed by Agrawal revealed that between 2009 and 2013 (while as per DoE there there were no claimants for 6, Krishna Menon Marg) the CPWD records maintained that the bungalow was allotted to Kumar and also showed a pending rent bill of Rs 1.98-crore against her name. Agrawal said the government later appears to have waived this bill claiming that it was sent due to pressure exerted by various RTI applications.
Discrepancy in DoE and CPWD records
Agrawal had on May 26, 2010, written to the Lok Sabha secretariat, saying, “This bungalow has been continuously under ‘authorised’ or ‘unauthorised’ occupation of family members of late Babu Jagjivan Ramji ever since he expired in the year 1986… Different departments of MoUD speak in different tones about the occupant of this prime government property. The CPWD responds that this bungalow is under occupation of Meira Kumar while DoE for last more than a decade records this bungalow as ‘un-allotted’. Even a rent bill of Rs 1.98 crore issued in the name of Meira Kumar was immediately taken back as having been issued ‘under RTI pressure’.”
Agrawal maintained that the ministry had informed him in 2016 that “as per records available in Type Special Section, Directorate of Estates, had not received any letter seeking the waiving off of any dues pertaining to bungalow No. 6, Krishna Menon Marg.” However, it said, Meira Kumar informed this directorate through a letter dated November 28, 2002 that the bungalow had already been vacated and asked to take possession of the bungalow on November 30, 2002.
Only Meira Kumar, her immediate family figure in foundation
The RTI activist maintains that apart from the issue of pending rent, another key issue which merits closer scrutiny is what constituted the “family” of Babu Jagjivan Ram for the purpose of forming the foundation in his memory and why only members of Meira Kumar’s immediate family were included in it while her niece (i.e. brother’s daughter) was kept out. “It is not known why the name of the other family-branch through (Babu Jagjivan Ram’s) son late Suresh Kumar did not appear anywhere in papers of the foundation,” he said.
Agrawal had filed a plea in October 2016 with the foundation seeking details on the issue. He had stated that while a web-search had revealed that there was one more legal heir, Medhavi Kirti, who is the daughter of late Suresh Kumar, son of Babu Jagjivan Ram, the documents provided to him earlier by the foundation in September 2016 had not revealed her name or those of her other family members as family members of late Babu Jagjivan Ram.
In response to a query filed by Chandra regarding why the “Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation could include only Ms. Meira Kumar and her other family members as the only family members of late Babu Jagjivan Ramji, thus leaving Ms. Medhavi Kirti and her family members (out) from the family members of late Babu Jagjivan Ramji”, the foundation had on November 11, 2016 issued a cryptic reply stating that “As per sub Para (vi) of clause 3.1 of Article III of the Rules and Regulations of BJRNF, the members of Babu Jagjivan Ram’s family for the purpose of the Foundation are his daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and their spouse. As Ms Medhavi Kirti is grand-child of Babu Jagjivan Ramji, she is included in the definition of the family.”
MoA also only mentioned names of Meira’s immediate family
Incidentally, the Memorandum of Association and rules and regulations of the foundation had stated that apart from the ex-officio members, “at least one member from the family of Babu Jagjivan Ram, or a person nominated by the family members by majority and she/he shall also be the member of the governing body. Decision of the family members of Babu Jagjivan Ram regarding their choice of nominee shall be final and shall be given effect to”.
However, it had surprisingly identified the members of Babu Jagjivan Ram’s family as “his daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and their spouses” and left out Medhavi from the list.
Earlier, the “family” of Kumar had on June 12, 2014 nominated another of Babu Jagjivan Ram’s granddaughters, Swati Kumar, a resident of D-2/6 Vasant Vihar, Delhi to the general body of the foundation and she was made its executive vice-president.
Here the list of family members showed that while the “family” comprised eight members of Kumar’s family, Medhavi, had not been included. The eight family members who approved Swati Kumar’s names were daughter Meira Kumar, son-in-law Manjul Kumar, grandson Anshul Avijit and granddaughter-in-law Manica Singh Avijit – all residents of D-1029 New Friends Colony. The other members were granddaughter Swati Kumar and grandson-in-law Ranjit Singh Walia, both residents of D-2/6 Vasant Vihar, and granddaughter Devangana Kumar and grandson-in-law Amit Kumar Tyagi, both residents of M-83, first floor Saket.
In light of these discrepancies, Agrawal has demanded that the Centre order a probe into the working of the foundation to also see if expenditure on the birth and death anniversaries by it on money drawn from public coffers was in accordance with the year 2000 notification of the Union cabinet.