Three thousand illegal residents inside Ashok Hotel, Delhi. When Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie told me about over 300 unauthorised staff houses on the premises of Delhi's oldest 5-star hotel, I didn't quite believe him.
At best it's an exaggerated symbol of Jawaharlal Nehru's belief in the welfare state. The hotel was built in 1956 under the personal supervision of the then tourism minister Karan Singh and the staff would have you believe that Nehru personally inspected the construction once a month.
After a futile two rounds, we decided to walk to the adjacent Hotel Samrat. Ashok and Samrat are two 5-star hotels of the ITDC located next to each other in the capital's posh Chanakyapuri area. Right next to Samrat's main entrance we saw a small gate marked "Way for cycle stand".
The passage was covered with tall bushes. Walking further down, we saw what we had never expected to see. A yellow dilapidated, threestorey building swarming with people. As Sipra started to take pictures, a man rushed to us from the building.
"From the press? You must see the hell we live in," he said, virtually pushing us into the building. A bigger shock awaited us. The stench and dirt in the building were nauseating. It had some 300 rooms in which lived as many families. No kitchens and only 10 toilets and bathrooms for over 2,500 people.
Ten minutes into the building and I had a churning sensation in my stomach, something I haven't experienced even at the filthiest railway platform. But what was most ironical is that the dingy and unauthorised building stands just 300 yards away from the prime minister's Race Course Road home.
The state and legal status of this building is one of the stumbling blocks in the pricing and privatisation of Ashok. This, of course, was only one of the many chilling discoveries I made while investigating the ITDC story ("The Great Hotel Robbery", August 15).