Delhi High Court heavily criticised officers of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs for their inaction towards evicting officers overstaying in government bungalows.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Hari Shankar has also imposed costs on the Secretary, MoHUA, for showing prolonged lethargy in dealing with the matter.
The court was hearing a plea seeking identification and eviction of various MPs and bureaucrats who are illegally overstaying in government accommodations.
On the last hearing, the court had directed the Housing Department to identify such officers and initiate the necessary action in accordance with law.
Today, the government counsel informed the court that the names of such officers have been identified and 'necessary cases' have been initiated against them.
It was also informed that 8 out of the 9 MPs have vacated their government bungalows. The total money that needs to be recovered from these MPs approximately amounts to ₹35 lacs.
'Why are the cases being filed, are these officers resisting.', the court asked.
At this point, the said counsel informed the court that he's not ready with all the information and would prefer an adjournment to file a detailed reply.
This did not go down well with the court.
'More than 575 persons have not vacated the houses, and you're seeking an adjournment? You've not even issued notices to these officers. Tell us who's responsible for this? We'll suspend that officer or deduct money from his salary', the court said.
The court then asked the counsel to start reading out the names of the officers, and the amounts they owe to the exchequer, in the open court.
'Let the public know their names', it said.
It was during this time that it surfaced before the open court that some of these officers have been overstaying since 1998, or early 2000s. Some of them have died, and the premises are now being illegally occupied by their legal heirs. It was said:
'Some have been staying since 1998 and it's 2020 now. Have you recovered any amount? These people are living on taxpayers money… You can't do more charity than law. The officers shall pay from their salaries, a penalty should be imposed.'
The court continued to rap the government counsel by saying:
'74 lacs are pending from one person, we hear tax matters where amount is lesser than this. We can go to the extent of issuing directions for lodging of the FIRs against the concerned officers.'
The court was extremely appalled by the lethargy shown by the concerned department. The government counsel could not even inform the court as to whether notices have been issued to the overstaying officers for the recovery of money yet owe to the exchequer.
'Someone's making money out of it, someone's happy. That's why no action has been taken so far. Lethargy that extends for long reflects connivance with the wrongful acts', the Bench said.
The court noted in its order that the continued lethargy by the concerned officer, which in this case was identified to be Durga Shankar Mishra (Secretary, MoHUA), has caused huge loss to the Union of India, which is also an offence under IPC.
Further, the court imposed costs of ₹10,000 to be deducted from the upcoming salary of Mr Durga Shankar Mishra, for his show of prolonged lethargy.
'There's thousands and lacs of money which needs to be recovered, and you suddenly get anxious about ₹10,000? You don't care when the costs are imposed on the government funds, that's why we're imposing personal costs. This will force you take action expeditiously', the court said.
In light of the same developments, the court has also directed the department to put the luggage/belongings of all the overstaying officers out on the roads, if there's no stay order in their favour passed by any competent authority.
The department is also directed to file a compliance report on February 7.