SRA chief refuses to pay rent or vacate BMC bungalow

Former BMC additional commissioner Aseem Gupta, who was supposed to vacate a sprawling bungalow in Byculla after he was transferred in 2013, has been staying there till date; far from paying the Rs 1 lakh rent that the BMC asked him to do six months ago, he stopped paying even the nominal rent for the bungalow in 2013

It's been two years since Aseem Gupta was transferred from his post as an additional commissioner of the BMC, but he's yet to give up a sprawling bungalow, spread over an area of 8,000 sq ft, allotted to him in Byculla.

The sprawling bungalow where Aseem Gupta (inset) lives, is located on the premises of the Jijamata Udyan, which also houses the Byculla zoo. Pic/Satyajit Desai
The sprawling bungalow where Aseem Gupta (inset) lives, is located on the premises of the Jijamata Udyan, which also houses the Byculla zoo. Pic/Satyajit Desai

Fed up with Gupta's refusal to vacate the bungalow, which is a heritage structure, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte asked the BMC's building and maintenance department to collect rent for it six months ago.

Officials from the department said they had calculated the monthly rent at Rs 1 lakh and issued a letter to Gupta, who is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, in November 2014. They said, however, that Gupta has not paid a rupee in rent so far.

What's more, since 2013, when he was transferred, Gupta even stopped paying the nominal rent that he used to pay for occupying the bungalow as a BMC additional commissioner. According to real estate experts, the monthly rent for a bungalow that size in Byculla, as per prevailing market rates, would be at least R5 lakh and could go up to Rs 7 lakh.

Allotment
Gupta had joined the BMC as an additional commissioner on June 2010 and was allotted the civic body's bungalow, which is located on the premises of Jijamata Udyan (Byculla Zoo). The bungalow, a heritage structure, has a living space of 6,000 sq ft and the adjoining area, including the garden, is 2,000 sq ft.

In July 2013, Gupta was transferred to the Thane Municipal Corporation as the Municipal Commissioner and was asked to vacate the BMC bungalow by October 2013 at the latest as per a three-month notice which is granted to government officials.

Gupta did not vacate the bungalow, however, and in October 2014, Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte asked the building and maintenance department to collect rent from him. In January this year, Gupta was appointed the CEO for the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.

“Based on the fact that the bungalow is spread over 8,000 sq ft, its location, and the fact that it is a heritage structure, the rent was fixed at R1 lakh and we sent a notice to Gupta in November, asking him to start paying the rent. He has not paid a single rupee so far,” said an official from the department.

Commissioner speak
When mid-day spoke to Kunte, he said he has directed the concerned authorities to recover the money. “I've have already asked the officers to recover the rent amount. However, I am not aware whether the collection has taken place,” he said.

Opposition speak
Congress Corporator Devendra Ambekar, who is also the opposition leader in the BMC, said, “Usually, if a BMC officer or staffer does not vacate the official residence, the civic body asks him to pay double the rent after the three-month notice period is over. Even this can be done only for six months from then and the officer has to vacate the bungalow after that. Why was this not done in Gupta’s case? Why was he allowed to stay on, and that too rent-free?

The other side
Gupta said, “When I was transferred in 2013, my daughter was in Std X and I had requested the BMC to let me stay on in the bungalow till March 2014, when her board exams would be over, so that her studies would not get affected. I did not hear from the BMC after that. I was transferred as the Thane Municipal Commissioner and have now taken charge as the SRA CEO.

The bungalow’s location is convenient for me in the discharge of my duties as Mantralaya and other government offices are located nearby. “Since July 2013, I have been paying for the electricity, water and other bills myself and the BMC has not been paying for me. I got the BMC notice to pay R1 lakh as rent for the bungalow only on February 18 and, as per procedure, I asked them to give me the three-month mandatory notice, which will end on May 18,” he added.

“I also told them that after the three-month period is over, I am ready to pay Rs 1 lakh as rent, if the BMC agrees to let me stay on. I have also said that I can get the SRA to pay the rent for the bungalow instead of allotting me a new residence. Had the BMC needed the bungalow, they would have sent me a notice earlier,” said Gupta.

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