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No wild home for Dhanda
Chitleen K. Sethi
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 3
The Punjab forest department has decided not to allow chief parliamentary secretary Punjab Harish Rai Dhanda to “misuse” the Pallanpur rest house as his residence.

Highly-placed officials in the department said today that while Dhanda could visit the rest house on the basis of a valid permit, he would not be allowed to use it as his residence as this would “militate against” the Forest Conservation Act 1980 and the injunction of the Supreme Court in this regard.

The MLA from Ludhiana had requested the chief secretary to allow him to live in the rest house, as he had still not been allotted a house. Chief secretary Ramesh Inder Singh had marked the request to the personnel department for discussion. The personnel department had sought the comments of the forest department.

“The permission to use the rest house for residential purposes would have to come from the Centre since the entire area is governed by the Forest Conservation Act 1980 read with a Supreme Court judgement of 1996. These huts were set up on forest area for the inspection of forests and cannot be used for residential purposes,” said a senior official of the department.

The sources said the principal secretary and financial commissioner revenue (forests) RN Gupta explained the legal position to the minister for forests and wild life Tikshan Sood at a meeting held this

evening. When contacted the minister, however, said he had yet to see the files of the case but the final decision will be taken in accordance with the law of the land.

As for Dhanda’s summoning forest officials, department sources pointed out that forest officials and officers were under the administrative control of the forest minister and the financial commissioner revenue (forests). “While every courtesy will be shown to the chief parliamentary secretary in case he convenes an official meeting with the department, no officer appear before him without clearance from Forest Minister,” said sources.

The controversy was triggered off by Dhanda’s letter to the chief secretary seeking allotment of the Pallanpur forest rest house for his residence. He had also sought renovation of the rest house to make it livable. “There are two forest rest houses near Chandigarh. One rest house is at Seonk, which a lot of people visit,” said Dhanda adding that the other house is at Pallanpur, was not visited at all. “According to my information no one has spent a night at this rest house for many years now. The rest house can be made livable and needs only a few changes. I request that the deputy commissioner Mohali may be asked to requisition the rest house and allot it to me to live in as a temporary arrangement,” stated Dhanda.

Explaining that 11 chief parliamentary secretaries were to be given houses, Dhanda rued that only eight houses were available initially. “Later when another house was to be allotted, there were three applicants,” he said adding that Avinash Chander needed the house more than him and a note to this effect was sent by the Chief Minister to the chief secretary. “I would have had no problem had the house been allotted to Avinash Chander before me but the house was allotted to the third chief parliamentary secretary,” he wrote.

“Now there is no suitable house available for allotment. Although according to government rules Rs 30,000 can be given as house rent allowance but there are little chances of getting a house within this. Moreover I consider this a burden on the government treasury,” he stated.

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