The need for a former Member of Parliament to live a life of dignity after ceasing to be a member is not merely a matter of concern for Members of Parliament themselves but an issue which is vital to the functioning of democracy, the Court said.
Allahabad High Court has dismissed a writ petition by Lok Prahri challenging the constitutional validity of the amendments made by Parliament to the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, 1954 and also of the provisions by which Parliament has legislated to provide for pension and for the grant of facilities to former members of Parliament.
Division Bench comprising of the Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud and Justice Rajan Roy observed that these matters lie in the province of the legislature and there is no constitutional prohibition on Parliament adopting such a measure of social security for its former members.
ARTICLE 106 IS NOT SOLE REPOSITORY OF PARLIAMENT TO LEGISLATE ON SALARY/BENEFITS TO MEMBERS
The argument that Article 106 which empowers Parliament to legislate on salaries and allowances of its Members, is confined only to salary and allowances payable to members and it does not speak about pension, was rejected by the court by observing as follows :
Article 106 is not the sole repository of the power of Parliament to enact legislation with reference to salaries and allowances or pensionary benefits payable to its members. Once Article 106 is not construed to be 15 exhaustive of the legislative power of Parliament or to impose a prohibition on the legislature legislating to provide something which may not strictly fall within the purview of Article 106, the argument of the petitioner must necessarily fail.
DIGNIFIED LIFE OF FORMER MEMBERS VITAL TO FUNCTIONING OF DEMOCRACY
Rejecting the challenge against grant of facilities and benefits to those who have ceased to be members of parliament, the bench held as follows:
Members of Parliament are elected representatives of the people, chosen to represent their constituencies in the august hall of debate and discourse that represents the essence of Indian democracy. Members of Parliament are elected by the people as representatives: persons who represent the voice and aspirations of the people whom they represent. The grant of pensionary payments is intended to subserve the need to protect a dignified condition of life to a member after he or she ceases to be a Member of Parliament. The need for a former Member of Parliament to live a life of dignity after ceasing to be a member is not merely a matter of concern for Members of Parliament themselves but an issue which is vital to the functioning of democracy. There is a vital societal interest in ensuring that persons who have held an important constitutional position as elected representatives in Parliament should be able to live with dignity by the provision of a pensionary payment. This is a valid assumption which the legislature which enacts the law can make and one which must pass constitutional muster when challenged before the Court. The conditions subject to which the grant of pension should be envisaged is a matter which lies, in our view, in the discretion of the body which enacts the law. In every case involving the grant of pension, it is necessary for the law which confers the right, to define eligibility and conditions subject to which the benefit can be availed of. These are matters which lie in the province of the legislature. Unless the conditions are shown to be palpably unconstitutional, judicial review would not extend to second guessing the legislature. The Court, it is trite law, would not substitute its opinion of justness for the view which has been formed by Parliament while enacting the legislation.
DOING AWAY WITH MINIMUM QUALIFYING PERIOD CANNOT BE SEEN AS TRANSGRESSION OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIMITS
With regard to the challenge against removal of the requirement of a minimum tenure of four years as a Parliamentarian for eligibility to receive pension, the court observed:
Originally, the law, as enacted, stipulated a minimum qualifying period of four years for the grant of pensionary benefits. Parliament in doing away with that stipulation cannot be held to have transgressed any constitutional boundaries or limits. Whether the stipulation should be of four years or some other period or whether there should be a stipulation of a time period for a member to be entitled for the grant of pension are matters of legislative policy.
NO CONSTITUTIONAL PROHIBITION FOR ADOPTING SOCIAL SECURITY MEASURES FOR FORMER MPs
With regard to the contention that grant of family pension to former parliamentarians violates doctrine of equality, the court held.
The introduction of a provision for the grant of a family pension is in the nature of a social welfare measure intended to provide a sense of security to a spouse or dependent of a Member of Parliament who has died. The expression 'dependent' has been defined by Section 2 (aa). In our view, the grant of family pension to the spouse or dependent of a former Member of Parliament is a matter of legislative policy. There is no constitutional prohibition on Parliament adopting such a measure of social security for its former members. The nature and extent of payment are not such as would implicate the vice of arbitrariness under Article 14.
Read the Judgment here.