Former CMs not entitled to government bungalows: SC

Former chief ministers are set to lose bungalows in prime locations in state capitals with the Supreme Court holding that occupying a constitutional post in the past does not entitle a person to government accommodation underwritten by tax rupees.

The court said after demitting office, ex-CMs should be on a par with common citizens and in a scathing attack on the practice in some states of giving life-time official accommodation to former CMs, a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R Banumathi said public office held earlier could not be a ground to shower special privileges or create a separate class of citizens. The decision strikes down accommodation to high-profile politicians like former UP CMs —Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Rajnath Singh (now Union home minister) and Kalyan Singh, who is currently Rajasthan governor. Despite fiercely antagonistic politics, political leaders have found common ground in backing this privilege.

The court’s verdict may not affect the Centre’s policy of providing residential accommodation to former Presidents, Vice-Presidents and PMs as the apex court had in 1997 approved it. But the policy may now be open to challenge in view of observations made by the apex court in its judgment. “Natural resources, public land and public goods like government bungalows/official residence are public property that belong 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 said.

“The chief minister, once he or she demits 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 life-time, would not be guided by the constitutional principle of equality,” the court said.

The court quashed Section 4(3) of UP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which was legislated by the SP government in 2016 for allotting official bungalows to former CMs and termed it arbitrary and violative of constitutional principles. As per the provision, a government residence shall be allotted to a former CM for life-time, on payment of such rent as may be determined from time to time by the estate department of the state. The provision was not altered after BJP assumed office in 2017.

The rules were intended to frustrate the SC’s 2016 verdict in which it had directed six former CMs —Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, 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.

“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,” it said.

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