While the bill for an entire decade from 2004 to 2014 for MPs and ministers’ stay in five-star hotels totals Rs 19.77 crore, the BJP government has run up a bill of Rs 25 crore in a year. That’s a tad difficult to explain for a government that clamped down on ‘conferences in five-star hotels’ and curtailed first-class travel of bureaucrats.
But BJP MP and house committee chairman Arjun Meghwal tries to demystify this conundrum. “The present Lok Sabha has 330 first-time MPs who did not have accommodation in Delhi. This is the first time in many years that the Lok Sabha is filled with so many debutants, so it is obvious the bill would be higher,” said Meghwal.
MPs have to be provided official accommodation from the day they are sworn in. If a house is not available, they are put up in state guest houses or government-owned hotels, including Ashoka, Samrat and Janpath in the Capital.
Though the rack rent at Ashoka hotel is Rs 10,000, the rooms are provided for MPs at a subsidised rate of Rs 7,000. As per Ashoka Hotel officials, rates have not risen dramatically over the years.
But not all 330 first-timers stayed in five-star hotels. According to sources in the Urban Development Ministry, only 141 MPs were accommodated in Ashoka Hotel. “The bill is so huge because many of them stayed on for nearly a year in the hotel accommodation as they waited for their houses in Delhi,” said a senior UD ministry official. Till May this year, 32 MPs were still staying in Ashoka Hotel and vacated only after UD minister Venkiah Naidu threatened them with a notice that they would have to foot the bill themselves.
The Congress says they went by the norm that only ministers and senior leaders could stay in five-stars. “First timers were asked to stay in State Bhavans. The present government has been indiscriminate about allowing everyone to stay and as long as they wish,” former Congress MP J P Agarwal said. Agarwal headed the Lok Sabha House Committee from 2009 to 2014.
Another factor was that rooms remain blocked even for the long gaps when Parliament was not in session and the MPs were in their constituency.
“Even when the Parliament is not in session, MPs get a huge amount of mail. We can’t send it all the way to their constituency. Plus an MP needs basic office facilities like a fax machine and so on,” Meghwal explained. “The delay has been partly because the previous occupants took time to vacate. But it is also because many MPs could not make up their mind and were picky about the houses,” added a senior official.