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A Tribune Exclusive
J&K losing lakhs on Chandigarh property
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 18
As far as silly interpretation of the law is concerned this takes the cake. Only, the cake is costing the cash-strapped government of Jammu and Kashmir lakhs of rupees a month. How? Read on.

The J&K Government owns a prime piece of commercial property — three shop-cum-offices (SCOs) in Sector 17, the nerve centre of business activity in Chandigarh. The SCOs — 28-31, Sector 17-B — stand leased to the Union Ministry of Labour for a monthly rent of Rs 1.06 lakh and the office of Labour Bureau is situated in the building. The lease was first approved on March 9, 1987, and it expired after five years.

The original agreement said the J&K Government would be entitled to an increase in rent to the tune of 8 per cent per annum. However, since 1987, no increase has take place due a small outstanding issue between the governments of India and J&K.

While the government of J&K — the state has its own Constitution — wants the designated officer at the Labour Ministry to append his signatures on the lease agreement drawn and finalised as per the state’s Constitution, the authorities at the Ministry of Labour are insisting that the lease be prepared as per the Constitution of India.

And, because of the stand-off, no hike in rent has been finalised. Incidentally, even the original lease deed was not signed by either of the two parties at the time of finalising the initial five-year lease.

Sources associated with the negotiations say officers of both sides have bluntly refused to sign on the dotted lines if the agreement is prepared by the other side.

The current monthly market rent for a single SCO in Sector 17 is at least Rs 5 lakh and by this yard-stick, the J&K exchequer is losing about Rs 4 lakh every month. Even if one considers the Central Public Works Department estimate of rent for the area, the government loss still remains over Rs 2.5 lakh a month.

Not only this, the J&K Government is also straddled with the responsibility of maintaining the building and paying the property tax.

The five-year lease period as per the first agreement lapsed in March 1992, but till date the lease has not been renewed.

The question which the Constitution is to follow — simple enough considering the fact that J&K is as much a part of India as the other states — has assumed such a magnitude that the matter now stands referred to the Union Ministry of Law for its advice.

“Actually, all this is very silly. How does it matter, which party drafts the agreement? As long as its terms meet the approval of both parties concerned, there shouldn’t be any problem. But, in this case, neither side is willing to budge. Let’s see what happens once the Law Ministry gives its opinion,” says a senior official at the Labour Bureau.

The sources say that it is not as if the Labour Ministry is unwilling to increase the rent. “But, a hike can be finalised only if a fresh lease is prepared. We have even shown our willingness to consider an increase from a back-date. But, to no avail,” said an officer of the Labour Bureau.

Despite repeated attempts, neither the Resident Commissioner, J&K Government, Mr Ajit Kumar, nor the Director-General of the Labour Bureau, Shimla, under whose administrative control the Chandigarh office falls, were available for comment.


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