Bhubaneswar: It was either a case of being honest or having signed on the dotted line, perhaps a bit of both. Parliamentary affairs minister Bikram Keshari Arukh today submitted a written reply in the Assembly to a question on lawmakers occupying more than one government quarters in violation of rules with his own name in the list of violators.
While Arukh’s honesty raised quite a few eyebrows, a call to the minister later in the day revealed that he was himself unaware of his name being on the list that includes three others ministers, some former ministers and MLAs.
“Is it? I didn’t mark this,” Arukh said in apparent surprise. He said he would return one of the two quarters allotted to him.
Sources attributed the ignorance of Arukh, considered close to chief minister Naveen Patnaik as they hail from the same Ganjam district, to the trend of ministers submitting written replies without having to answer supplementaries during the ongoing session of the Assembly which has seen the question hour being disrupted regularly by both the Opposition and the BJD members itching for a showdown over the money deposit collection scam.
“So far, there has hardly been any live reply from any minister during the Question Hour that has been scuttled time and again. This appears to have made ministers complacent and they don’t even bother to vet the documents handed to them by the babus,” said a source offering a plausible explanation for Arukh having missed his own name in the list of offending ministers, who also include law minister Arun Sahoo, higher education minister Pradeep Kumar Panigrahi and pension administration minister Jogendra Behera.
Incidentally, in 2011 Arukh had landed in an embarrassing controversy when he was found to have been allotted two houses under the government housing schemes — one in his name and the other in the name of his wife.
When the issue snowballed, he surrendered one of the houses.
Former ministers who either lost elections or did not contest the last elections and thus have ceased to be legislators but are still occupying government quarters include Prafulla Chandra Ghadei, Sarada Prasad Nayak, Raghunath Mohanty,. Aurobinda Dhali, Anjali Behera, Bishnu Charan Das and Kalindi Behera.
Similarly, MLAs who are yet to vacate the quarters they occupied as ministers include Bedprakash Agarwal, Pratap Jena, Padmanabha Behera, Subrat Tarai, Pramila Mallick, Prafulla Samal, Sanjeeb Kumar Sahoo and Praveen Kumar Bhanjadeo.
Other leaders who are yet to vacate government quarters are former Speaker and chairman, Western Odisha Development Council, Kishore Kumar Mohanty and former minister and Rajya Sabha member Sarojini Hembram.
However, the case of the four ministers seems to be unique as they have been allotted ministerial bungalows while they continue to occupy the quarters they had been given as MLAs.
While Arukh appeared apologetic when told that his name figured in the list of violators, higher education minister Panigrahi sought to brazen it out.
“Yes, I have,” he said and made no attempt to clarify whether he would return one of the two houses in his possession.
Pension administration minister Behera, however, reacted with surprise. “ How should the parliamentary affairs department put my name in the list. I am still living in the house that was allotted to me as an MLA. Though a house meant for ministers has been allotted to me, I am yet to occupy it,” he said.
Law minister Sahoo could not be contacted for his comments.
One of the MLAs, who has not vacated the bunglow he had been allotted as a minister, said: “There are people who have lost election and are still occupying government quarters. They should be the first to vacate government quarters, then others will follow.”
For minister Kalindi Behera, who is no more an MLA but continues to be in the possession of a government quarters, said: “I have moved court against the vacation order served on me. The court has granted me stay till February 2015.”