Delay in buying Ambedkar's bungalow sparks blame game

Amid reports that the owner in London had set a deadline for yesterday to finalise the deal, the opposition held protests at Mantralaya, calling the govt anti-Ambedkar; while the govt tried to put up a united front, cracks were apparent, with the social welfare and finance departments trading barbs

Who in the state government is responsible for the delay in inking a deal for purchasing the three-storey London bungalow where Babasaheb Ambedkar lived as a student in the 1920s?

The bungalow’s owner had reportedly threatened to withdraw the offer if the sale was not finalised by yesterday. The government may end up paying more than the Rs 31 crore that was decided initially. File pic
The bungalow’s owner had reportedly threatened to withdraw the offer if the sale was not finalised by yesterday. The government may end up paying more than the Rs 31 crore that was decided initially. File pic

This was the question on everyone’s lips at Mantralaya, with the seat of power witnessing frenzied activity following reports that the bungalow’s owner had set a deadline of yesterday for the deal to be finalised.

While the opposition protested and created a ruckus outside Social Welfare Minister Rajkumar Badole’s office in Mantralaya, the government dismissed reports of any such deadline and tried to put up a united front, claiming that the deal would be sealed in 15 days, and no one was at fault.

Underneath that façade, however, the social welfare department and finance department were busy trading barbs and blaming each other for the delay. Badole, who was in Ladakh, finally rushed to New Delhi to seek guidance from his seniors in the BJP.

He was asked to speak to officials in the External Affairs Ministry, who helped iron out the kinks in the deal, enabling Badole to make an announcement to the effect that everything was all right.

Pressure mounts
With talk of the deadline doing the rounds, the opposition mounted pressure on the government. Workers of the Nationalist Congress Party stormed Badole’s Mantralaya office and created a ruckus there and Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said the BJP government was anti-Ambedkar.

Passing the buck
While Badole was in Ladakh on Saturday and Sunday, officials from his department told mid-day yesterday that the finance department, led by Sudhir Mungatiwar, had not cleared the purchase even though a R40-crore allocation had already been made in the budget.

Officials in Mungatiwar’s office blamed bureaucrats in the expenditure department under the ministry for not clearing the proposal. They said the minister was in Aurangabad since Sunday and was not aware either of the movement of the file or the ultimatum issued by the agent looking after the bungalow’s sale.

They also blamed Badole’s department for not following up with the finance ministry properly, leading to the deal hanging fire. When mid-day spoke to Mungantiwar, he said, “My department is not responsible for any delay. We had already made a budgetary allocation.”

Badole, meanwhile, reached New Delhi to seek the guidance of senior BJP members, who got him in touch with the External Affairs Ministry. In Mumbai, his departmental secretary Ujjwal Uke ensured that the process was moved forward with the state finance (expenditure) department.

It was agreed by both parties (the bungalow owner/his agent and state government) that the exchanging of agreements would take place in next two days. The owner was also promised that the final payment would be made by September 4.

Talking from Delhi later, Badole said that there was no problem whatsoever, financial or legal, in the deal. “But there have been some difficulties, which we have resolved so that we can seal the deal in 15 days,” he said.

He also accused the opposition of spreading rumours of the owner threatening to withdraw his offer if the deal was not processed by yesterday. Sources in the government said the state may end up paying more than the agreed price of Rs 31 crore for the bungalow.

Badole all but confirmed this when he said that that the government was ready to spend more and had, hence, made a provision of R40 crore for the purpose.

Rough ride
Badole had visited London in April this year to work out a deal for acquiring the 2,050-sq ft bungalow. Since the state government cannot own property on foreign land, it was decided that the ownership would rest with the Central Government.

The state government would give the money required and the Indian Commission in London would be the caretaker of the property, which will be converted into a museum. Before Badole, Education Minister Vinod Tawde had initiated talks with the property consultant, Goldschmidt & Howland, which is handling the sale.

Buying the property — which has a blue plaque on the exterior with the words ‘Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian crusader for social justice, lived here in 1921-22’ — was not a smooth ride for the government. mid-day had reported in January how the owner had almost finalised a sale with a private developer, who was likely to develop the bungalow into flats.

The London-based Federation of Ambedkarites and Buddhist Organisations (FABO) UK was instrumental in convincing the Mahasrashtra and Indian government to purchase the property and had written several times to them in this regard.

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