SC strikes down Uttar Pradesh law allowing ex-CMs to keep government house

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A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the amendment in the legislation was ultra vires to the Constitution since it transgresses the concept of equality under the Constitution.

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh cannot retain government accommodation after demitting office, the Supreme Court held today, saying a Chief Minister was at par with a common man once his or her term ends.

Observing that a Chief Minister cannot continue to occupy public property like government bungalows which belong to people of the country, a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi struck down an amendment in a state legislation allowing them to retain government accommodation even after demitting office.

The bench said the provision, which was struck down, has the effect of creating a separate class of citizens for conferment of benefits by way of distribution of public property on the basis of the previous public office held by them.

“Natural resources, public lands and the public goods like government bungalows/ official residence are public property that belongs to the people of the country.

The ‘Doctrine of Equality’ which emerges from the concepts of justice, fairness must guide the State in the distribution/allocation of the same,” the bench, which also comprised Justice R Banumathi said.

“The Chief Minister, once he/she demits the office, is at par with the common citizen, though by virtue of the office held, he/she may be entitled to security and other protocols. But allotment of government bungalow, to be occupied during his/her lifetime, would not be guided by the constitutional principle of equality,” the bench observed.

The top court was hearing a petition filed by an NGO Lok Prahari challenging the amendments made by the erstwhile Akhilesh Yadav government to the ‘UP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981’.

The court, in its 29-page order, said once such persons demit public office held by them, there is nothing to distinguish them from the common man.

The apex court also said it was a legislative exercise based on irrelevant and legally unacceptable considerations, unsupported by any constitutional sanctity.

“The public office held by them becomes a matter of history and, therefore, cannot form the basis of a reasonable classification to categorise previous holders of public office as a special category of persons entitled to the benefit of special privileges.

The test of reasonable classification, therefore, has to fail,” the bench said.

The apex court also said in a democratic republican government, public servants, entrusted with duties of public nature, must act in a manner that reflects that the ultimate authority is vested in the citizens and it is to the citizens, that the holders of all public offices are eventually accountable.

“Such a situation would only be possible within a framework of equality and when all privileges, rights and benefits conferred on holders of public office are reasonable, rational and proportionate,” the bench said.

The Uttar Pradesh government said the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution was not a direct infringement of the fundamental rights of the petitioner.

The apex court did not accept the submission that the power to issue writ (direction) should only be exercised in cases relating to violation of fundamental rights of citizens and said that after the advent of PIL jurisdiction, the court can deal with a plethora of issues concerning common citizens.

The court had on April 19 reserved its verdict in the matter.

The NGO had challenged another UP law of 2016 called ‘The Allotment of Houses under Control of the Estate Department Bill-2016’ to regulate the allotment of government accommodation to trusts, journalists, political parties, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the legislative assembly, judicial officers and government officials.

The apex court had sought the UP government’s response in November 2016, after the plea claimed that state government has sought to skirt the Supreme Court verdict of August 1, 2016, by amending the law.

In that verdict, the apex court had held that the practice of allotting government bungalows to former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh was bad in law and they should hand over their possession in two months.

It had also said the state government should recover appropriate rent from the occupants of these bungalows for the period of their “unauthorised occupation”.

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