Coming straight to the core issue, let me begin at the very beginning by first and foremost expressing my utmost satisfaction to note that the Supreme Court just recently on May 7, 2018 in the landmark case of Lok Prahari Through Its General Secretary v The State Of Uttar Pradesh & Ors in the writ petition (C) No. 864 of 2016 struck down a provision of an Uttar Pradesh law titled Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 that let former Chief Ministers retain government bungalows even after they have demitted office and their term ends! Why should the former UP Chief Ministers continue to enjoy the privileges even long after they have demitted office and their term ends? Why should they not be made to vacate government bungalows just like we see in the case of other public servants?
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform here that a two-Judge Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi minced no words absolutely in stating categorically that, 'Chief Ministers are at par with the common citizens once they demit office and allowing them to retain their bungalows at public expense would amount to creating a separate class of citizens.” Who can deny or dispute this? Justice Ranjan Gogoi further minced no words in putting across very straight that, 'The Chief Minister once he or she demits the office, is at par with the common citizen, even if by virtue of the office held the person may be entitled to security and other protocols. But allotment of government bungalow, to be occupied during lifetime, would not be guided by the constitutional principle of equality.” It is most striking to note that despite having sharp political differences and being at loggerheads with each other, all leaders of different political parties were united in backing this unjustified privilege conferred by leaders on themselves!
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that the Apex Court quashed Section 4(3) of UP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 which mandated allotment of official bungalows to former UP Chief Ministers. This was legislated by the Samajwadi Party government in 2016 for allotting these official bungalows to former UP CMs. As per this provision, a government residence shall be allotted to a former Chief Minister for life time, on payment of such rent as may be determined from time to time by the estate department of the state. This provision which was enacted by former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav was not altered even after the BJP assumed office in 2017 and it continued operating like earlier.
Truth be told, the rules were intended to frustrate the Supreme Court's 2016 verdict in which it had directed six former Chief Ministers – Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rajnath Singh, Kalyan Singh, Ram Naresh Yadav and ND Tiwari – to vacate bungalows and set aside a rule framed by the state for giving them accommodation. The Bench said the impugned legislation can very well be construed an attempt to override the judgment of this court. The Bench also said that, 'Undoubtedly, Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act would have 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.”
To put things in perspective, the Apex Court was hearing a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahari. Earlier, the UP government had in 1997, introduced a set of rules to provide government accommodation to former Chief Ministers for life. The NGO, Lok Prahari had challenged this in the Supreme Court, which struck down the rules in August 2016. The State of UP subsequently amended Section 4 of the 1981 Act, by which former Chief Ministers are entitled to government accommodation for their lifetime.
Needless to say, the NGO Lok Prahari argued that in its verdict in August 2016, Supreme Court had held that allotment of government bungalows to former Chief Ministers was bad in law and they should hand over possession of the bungalows occupied by them. The amendments were made only to circumvent the Apex Court order. The Supreme Court Bench in Para 39 rightly held that, 'Undoubtedly, Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act would have 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. Once such persons demit the public office earlier held by them there is nothing to distinguish them from the common man. The public office held by them becomes a matter of history and, therefore, cannot form the basis of a reasonable classification to categorize 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. Not only that the legislation i.e. Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act recognizing former holders of public office as a special class of citizens, viewed in the aforesaid context, would appear to be arbitrary and discriminatory thereby violating the equality clause. It is a legislative exercise based on irrelevant and legally unacceptable considerations, unsupported by any constitutional sanctity.”
Furthermore, the Apex Court Bench in Para 40 stated that, 'Consequently, we hold that Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act cannot pass the test of Article 14 of the Constitution of India and is, therefore, liable to be struck down. We, therefore, hold that the aforesaid Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 is ultra vires the Constitution of India as it transgresses the equality clause under Article 14. The writ petition in question, therefore, is allowed.”
As it turned out, while opposing the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, the state contended that the writ jurisdiction of the court could be invoked only where there is a direct infringement of the fundamental rights of the petitioner. To this the Bench reacted by saying that, 'While it is true that Article 32 of the Constitution is to be invoked for enforcement of the fundamental rights of a citizen or a non-citizen, as may be, and there must be a violation or infringement thereof, we have moved away from the theory of infringement of the fundamental rights of an individual citizen or non-citizen to one of infringement of rights of a class.” The Bench said this transformation is the foundation of 'Public Interest Litigation” or 'class action” suits.
Going forward, though the matter referred to the UP Act, the Apex Court said that it had, during the hearing, thought it appropriate 'to inform” other states and union territories who may have similar provisions. Only Odisha, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Bihar responded. Though Tamil Nadu and Odisha had no such provisions, Bihar and Assam had such provisions by way of executive instructions.
By the way, the Centre also informed the Apex Court that it provides accommodation to former Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Prime Ministers. Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi pointed out that the issue came up for consideration of the Apex Court in the landmark case of Shiv Sagar Tiwari vs Union of India and others (1997) 1 SCC 444 and the court had approved the same. Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, who assisted the court as amicus curiae, asked the Bench to expand the scope of the PIL and extend it to former Presidents and Prime Ministers. This suggestion was promptly opposed by the Centre, which said an exception for former Presidents and PMs was made by the top court itself by a 1997 judgment delivered by a three-Judge Bench which cannot be interfered by a bench of two Judges!
It needs no Sherlock Holmes to conclude that this is a landmark ruling which is applicable to all the former Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh. They will now be made to vacate their bungalow which they have been occupying since many years. ND Tiwari is occupying a bungalow in Mall Avenue in Lucknow from 1989 till now that is for 29 years, Kalyan Singh also at Mall Avenue for 27 years from 1991 till now even though he is now the Governor of Rajasthan, Rajnath Singh who isUnion Home Minister for 18 years from 2000 at Kalidas Marg, Mulayam Singh Yadav in Vikarmaditya Marg for 26 years from 1992 till now, Mayawati from 1995 till now for 23 years at Mall Avenue and Akhilesh Yadav from 2016 till now that is 2 years at Vikramaditya Marg! This blatant abuse of status symbol must come to an end now and bungalows too like beacons must be done away with for former CM and PM among others!
But this landmark ruling should not be restricted to just UP alone. It must be applied to all States. Also, this rule must be extended to former Presidents and former Prime Ministers as was asked by senior advocate Gopal Subramanium from the Bench! Only then will it serve its true purpose of checking gross abuse of huge bungalows by those high dignitaries who continue occupying such sprawling bungalows even decades after they cease to hold any office thus depriving others who rightfully deserve to occupy it! In US, even the former Presidents have to vacate official bungalows! Same should be the case in India also! Just like beacons on cars for VIPs has been done away with, this bungalows for ex-CM, ex-PM, ex-MLA, ex-MP, ex-President and ex-Governor among others too should be discarded! No doubt, the Apex Court verdict is certainly landmark and laudable which must be fully and firmly implemented not just in UP alone but also in all the states in India uniformly so that a loud and clear message goes out to all politicians that perks and privileges cannot be in perpetuity!