Need to avoid splurging on government bungalows

Need to avoid splurging on government bungalows

Aesthetics, utility, ecological aspects and financial considerations become the prime concerns while planning a private building.

But in the case of buildings constructed by a government, all these aspects take the back seat. This becomes obvious the way majority of the government buildings are constructed in Karnataka. 

In the recently held Karnataka assembly session, BJP leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar pointed out that the Public Works Department (PWD) is wasting enormous money by constructing huge Inspection Bungalows (IBs). 

Same with the palatial bungalows built for judges in Bangalore, he pointed out. He said the bathrooms are bigger than bedrooms in the IBs. He cited the example of the recently built Hubli IB to prove his point where space management has been ignored. 

Even Janata Dal (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy endorsed Shettar’s views on the judges’ quarters and said it was a blunder committed by him during whose regime as the chief minister the bungalows were planned. Shettar also said that some government buildings have a tag of eco-friendly but the builders, the PWD, have no knowledge of the concept except painting the exterior in green shade. There was no response from the government. 

Interestingly, the 15 bungalows in Hebbal were not built to accommodate the judges in the first place. It was planned for the cabinet ministers. Hence, space for servant quarters, lawns and home office besides huge vehicle parking space were designed for each bungalow in about a quarter acre. 

A budgetary allocation of Rs 75 crore was made in 2011-12. The land belonging to Karnataka Agro Industries Corporation was used for constructing the bungalows. When the judiciary questioned the government for not providing infrastructure facilities to the state judiciary, then the government hurried through the allocation of residential quarters to judges. 

On March 5, 2011, a government notification was issued to handover 15 bungalows which were under construction. The government took an ad hoc decision rather than convincing the court that it was not against providing houses to judges but needed time to plan. When Shobha Karandlaje was the minister, while briefing the media in November 2008, she had announced that each new bungalow would get about 10,000 sq ft. Conservative estimates put the cost of each bungalow at Rs 1.5 to 2 crore excluding land value. Even the residential quarters for the judges in Gulbarga and Dharwad are far more spacious than required by an individual. 

PWD engineers say that unlike ministers, judges do not entertain too many visitors nor meet public. They look for more security and therefore, the houses for them should be compact without compromising on comforts.  In the 14.20 acres of the now defunct land of the Agro Corporation, the government, if it had the foresight,  could have easily constructed 40 to 50 houses to accommodate all HC judges in the capital. Even demolishing the existing structures could pave way for constructing smaller houses to address the housing problem of judges, they argue.  Vertical growth needed While the government is keen to go in for vertical growth to address the housing problem of the urban poor, it is not interested in the making judicious use of the public money and space when it comes to constructing IBs, circuit houses or residential houses for officials and elected representatives. 

While planning an IB, which basically serves as a guest house for a couple of hours or for a few days for officials and politicians, functional aspects should be the prime thing rather than aesthetics. But majority of the IBs including those in Hubli and Belgaum, have huge open space, rooms and columns. All district and taluk head quarters have an IB. They are more like the bungalows built during the colonial period. 

PWD engineers argue that in taluks and districts, the government can afford to have big buildings because availability of land is not an issue. What about creating infrastructure facilities like providing air conditioners? More than anything, what about daily maintenance? The IBs are uniformly poorly maintained. Hardly have they seen the much needed repairs, whitewash and cleanliness due to paucity of funds and staff. It is best to outsource the housekeeping and canteens in these buildings. 

Facilities at the IBs should also be optimally used to make it financially self sufficient, officials say. PWD engineers blame the department of architecture for poor designing. They say that there are no proper guidelines to be followed while planning a government building. Archaic designs are still being copied across the state while no innovative ideas are adopted.

None, be it elected representatives, officials or judges, is ready to travel more than 15 to 20 minutes to reach their working place in Bangalore. Nobody wants to be caught in notorious traffic jams of the city. 

Shettar no doubt raised a valid debate on the wasteful expenditure on constructing bungalows. But he, as Leader of  Opposition, had found it tough to travel from Dollars Colony to Vidhana Soudha (in Bangalore) due to traffic snarls. He had pressured the government to sanction him a government bungalow on Race Course road so that he can reach Vidhana Soudha easily and quickly. 

Positive changes could be brought in provided there is collective effort from politicians and officials to judiciously use the tax payers’ money. But the hard reality is that ministers ensure that even toilets are refitted with new western commodes when they occupy government quarters. But when they vacate, they leave nothing – be it a bedspread or a cutlery set. Most get the household articles undervalued and purchase them for very nominal price. 

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