HC rejects provision for life-long facilities for former CMs

The Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday struck down an amendment to the Ministers’ Salaries Act, 1956, making a provision for life-long facilities, including government bungalow, telephone, car and personal secretaries, to former Chief Ministers. The amendment was brought in by the Vasundhara Raje government in 2017, giving the facilities even to the former Chief Ministers who were in office for less than five years.

PIL plea

Allowing a public interest litigation petition moved by journalist Milap Chand Dandia, a Division Bench said extending the facilities to former Chief Ministers was “abhorrent to the principle of equality” and it amounted to “nothing but appropriation of state wealth” for no reason other than such persons having held a high elective office.

Former Chief Ministers Ms. Raje, who served twice for five years each, and Jagannath Pahadia, who served from 1980 to 1981, are getting benefits under the law. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also enjoyed the facilities after April 26, 2017, when the Amendment Bill was passed, till December 2018 when he took over again after the Congress was elected to power.

SC order

In May 2018, the Supreme Court invalidated an Uttar Pradesh legislation which allowed former Chief Ministers to retain government accommodation for their lifetime. The apex court had ruled that such a statute was arbitrary and discriminatory and said once the Chief Ministers demitted public office, there was nothing to distinguish them from the common man.

The petitioner, who was later joined by another journalist Vijay Bhandari, had referred to the apex court’s judgment contending that Rajasthan was a financially backward State and giving life-long facilities to ex-Chief Ministers was a misuse of public funds. Extension of such facilities involved an additional revenue expenditure of ₹1.50 crore a year.

Free bungalow

As per Sections 7-BB and 11(2) inserted in the Act by the amendment, the former Chief Ministers were entitled to the facilities of free bungalow, State car, telephone, private secretary, personal assistant, grade-I clerk, driver, two assistants and three class-IV employees as long as they lived.

In its 23-page judgment, the Bench comprising Chief Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Prakash Gupta declared the impugned Sections arbitrary, contrary to Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution and void. “Arrogating a section of the political executive to the status of a ruling elite amounts to saying that they are more equal than the other public servants and citizens,” the court said.

“All power is public trust, to be held for and on behalf of the people and for their benefit. Once the holders of such power stray from the path of rectitude and help themselves to public largesse, the essence of democratic principle and equality is violated,” the Bench observed, stating that no other class of public servants was entitled to such benefits after superannuation.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 4:43:58 AM |

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