The chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana may have a bit of argy-bargy between each other, but they are pretty much united when it comes to their love for luxury. Both the chief ministers have no qualms about splurging from the exchequer amid other serious issues blighting the state.
Telangana’s K. Chandrasekhar Rao has always had a thing for royalty. Rao and his supporters even spread a rumor that KCR was the reincarnation of a Kakatiya king who had ruled the region from Warangal before the Nizam chose larger Hyderabad as his capital.
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And of course, the ‘royals’ don’t share their palaces (read chief minister’s bungalow). No wonder Rao, who wanted a home to match his exalted perception, was dispirited about the CM’s bungalow at Hyderabad, which was common to both the chief ministers.
Now, Rao has moved into his newly constructed high security, palatial home, which even has a bulletproof bathroom. The complex sprawls over one lakh square feet and was readied at a cost of Rs 50 crore. The building also homes a huge office.
Unlike other states, religion and politics go hand in hand in AP and Telangana. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are both banded together in bleeding the state’s coffers to officially sponsor and promote religious festivals to appease voters.
Interestingly, Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, is not too far behind. The TDP leader is building a sprawling bungalow in the new capital of Amaravati, which in some respects will match the opulence of Rao's bungalow in Hyderabad.
Taking a cue from their leaders, several ministers, including Rao’s son and information technology minister T.K. Rama Rao, are vying to get their bungalows renovated with expensive elements.
Even in states where chief ministers have been living in the same bungalows for decades, expansions are a norm.
Tamil Nadu, however, does not have a designated chief ministerial bungalow because, since 1969, the long-serving chief ministers M. Karunanidhi, the late M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa have lived in their personal bungalows. But these houses have been expanded and strengthened at public expenditure to suit the functioning and security of the chief ministers.
Like chief ministers, some governors too spend lavishly on the Raj Bhavan, although the expenses have to get principle approval from the union finance ministry. Two decades ago, when M.P. Veerendra Kumar was the minister of state for finance in the cabinet of H.D. Deve Gowda, he was shocked to see a bill for the renovation of kitchen in Uttar Pradesh Raj Bhavan.
The governor was Romesh Bhandari, a former foreign secretary, who was close to the Congress leadership. The bill was a little over Rs 1 crore (remember, the year was 1996). Veerendra Kumar refused to pass the bill saying the Raj Bhavan should have been more economical.
The file went up to P. Chidambaram, the then finance minister. Although Chidambaram agreed with Kumar on the principle of responsible spending, he approved the file as Bhandari had put pressure through prime minister’s office.
Later, Veerendra Kumar suggested that a cost guideline should be given to Raj Bhavans. However, the proposal was lost in the corridors of the home ministry.
Many of the north Indian states have the practice of allotting a sprawling bungalow for ex-chief ministers, similar to the custom of providing houses for ex-presidents, vice-presidents and prime ministers in New Delhi.
The Uttarakhand high court has struck down this scheme, as the small hill state, which is 16 years old, has already had five ex-chief ministers. Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who has served as a chief minister to both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has government bungalows both in Lucknow and Dehradun. However, the ex-chief ministers have persuaded present chief minister Harish Rawat to pass a law, which gives them legal entitlement for a bungalow.
Incidentally, KCR who had been a short term minister in Manmohan Singh government, wants a full-fledged bungalow for the Telangana chief minister in Delhi and has asked for a suitable allotment from the central government. According to KCR, if center can allot bungalows for the chief ministers of disturbed states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Assam, Telangana too is entitled to get a sprawling eight-acre complex in Lutyens Delhi as the newly formed state is plagued by Maoist attacks.