A former Chief Minister is only a commoner and not a “special class of citizen” who can enjoy privileges, perks and official bungalows at taxpayers’ expense for his entire lifetime, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
The verdict by a Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R. Banumathi came on a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahari against a law enacted by the U.P. Assembly which allows former CMs retain official bungalows and staff for the rest of their lives.
The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government, in its written submissions, had said that a “former Chief Minister” was a “class in itself.”
In a scathing judgment authored by Justice Gogoi, the court observed that the Constitution recognises only “one single class of citizens with one singular voice (vote).” The exceptions to this rule is confined only for the protection of backward classes, women, children, SC/ST, and minorities.
“A special class of citizens is abhorrent to the constitutional ethos,” the court held.
Ruling covers all States
The court had expanded the petition to cover all the other States.
“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,” Justice Gogoi wrote.
The court observed that “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 judgment mentions that States like Tamil Nadu have no provision for providing official accommodation to former Chief Ministers. However, States like Bihar and Assam have included the provision through executive instructions.
The court said “bungalows constitute public property which by itself is scarce and meant for use of current holders of public offices.”
It observed that it is necessary that public servants must act in a manner which reflects that “ultimate authority is vested in the citizens” and they are eventually accountable to the people.
The petition filed by the NGO had challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries and Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act of 2016 and The Allotment of Houses under Control of the Estate Department of 2016.
The NGO had sought action against the State authorities for acting in contempt of a Supreme Court verdict in August 2016, directing them to ensure that the former Chief Ministers vacate the bungalows.