NEW DELHI: The late PM Rajiv Gandhi's and Congress president Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra proved to be a tough negotiator 14 years ago, getting the Vajpayee government to pare down the monthly rent to her sprawling 2,765.18 sqm house in Lutyens' Delhi from Rs 53,421 to a mere Rs 8,888. She said it was "beyond her capacity to pay the high amount".
At present, Priyanka pays Rs 31,300 for her type VI government accommodation at 35, Lodhi Estate. She and three other "private citizens", including former Punjab DGP KPS Gill, All India Anti-Terrorist Front chief M S Bitta and Punjab Kesari editor Ashwani Kumar, were provided accommodation by the government on security grounds. Gill and Bitta are believed to be paying around the same amount as Priyanka while Kumar vacated his house in 2012.
Priyanka wrote to the government in May 7, 2002 that Rs 53,421 was "too high" an amount and "beyond her paying capacity". She informed the government that she had been "occupying the bungalow on the request of the SPG and that a large part of the bungalow was occupied by SPG itself" and not by her family. She said she was staying in a general pool house not out of choice or voluntarily but because of security considerations. She requested that she may "continue to pay rent at the earlier rate of Rs 28,451 per month, instead of the increased rate of Rs 53,421 per month", according to file notings from the ministry of urban development's directorate of estates. Other protectees also raised similar concerns.
In fact, the four people continued to pay the old rate despite the increase in rent, with Priyanka notching up outstanding dues of Rs 3.76 lakh up to January 31, 2004.
The note for the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation on July 8, 2003 - accessed under RTI by Noida resident Dev Ashish Bhattacharya - reasoned that "the matter has been reviewed keeping in view the facts that security protectees are not unauthorised occupants and allotments have been made to them as per policy of the government. It has been felt that the security protectees, including SPG protectees, may be charged special licence fee in respect of the government accommodation provided to them as they are private persons and they cannot afford to pay the market rates of licence fees".
The special licence fee was revised to Rs 8,888 per month from July 24, 2003, for Priyanka, and the rent for other protectees also brought down. In case of Gill, it was brought down from Rs 60,741 to Rs 10,715, for Bitta from Rs 55,536 to Rs 10,203, and for Kumar from Rs 50,311 to Rs 8,555.
The house was allotted to Priyanka, a private citizen, on the recommendations of the SPG, cabinet secretariat and the home ministry in 1997.
The directorate of estates said 35, Lodhi Estate was allotted on February 21, 1997, on payment of market rent of Rs 19,900 per month. The rent has since been revised periodically. The directorate of estates said the market rent for the property is Rs 81,865 per month. To put this in perspective, a house one-tenth the size of Priyanka's bungalow in the tony Jor Bagh commands a monthly rent of Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 4 lakh at present. There are no houses of this size available in the heart of Delhi for private citizens.