Recognizing Former CMs As A Special Class Of Citizens, Is Arbitrary And Discriminatory: Here Is What SC Said In Lok Prahari Judgment [Read Judgment]
‘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.’
While holding that former Chief Ministers are not entitled to Government Bungalows, the Supreme Court observed that once a Chief Minister demits the office, he/she is at par with the common citizen and is not entitled to occupy Government bungalows during his/her lifetime, though by virtue of the office held, he/she may be entitled to security and other protocols.
The question that arose before the Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi was whether retention of official accommodation by the former Chief Ministers after they had demitted office violate the equality clause guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The PIL, filed by NGO Lok Prahari, had challenged the amended Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 which made former Chief Ministers of the State entitled to allotment of government accommodation for their lifetime.
Nothing to distinguish former CMs from the common man.
The Bench observed that, Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 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 added that 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 preamble to the Constitution of India embodies, inter alia, the principles of equality and fraternity and it is on the basis of these principles of equality and fraternity that the Constitution recognizes only one single class of citizens with one singular voice (vote) in the democratic process subject to provisions made for backward classes, women, children, SC/ST, minorities, etc. A special class of citizens, subject to the exception noted above, is abhorrent to the constitutional ethos".
"It is, therefore, axiomatic that in a democratic republican government public servants entrusted with duties of public nature must act in a manner that reflects that ultimate authority is vested in the citizens and it is to the citizens that holders of all public offices are eventually accountable. Such a situation would only be possible within a framework of equality 13 and when all privileges, rights and benefits conferred on holders of public office are reasonable, rational and proportionate".
Rejecting the ‘reasonable classification’ argument, the Bench observed: "Undoubtedly, Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act would have the effect of creating a separate class of citizens for conferment 28 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 Court further observed that the provision in the Act, recognizing former holders of public office as a special class of citizens, is 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, the bench observed while striking down the provision.
Legislation an attempt to overreach earlier judgment
The Bench also said that the amendment brought in by the state can be construed as an attempt to overreach the 2016 judgment of the Apex Court in Lok Prahari case that had held that the 1997 Rules providing for allotment of government accommodation to former Chief Ministers, are violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. “The insertion of Section 4(3) by the 2016 Amendment as a substantive provision of the statute when the 1997 Rules to the same effect were declared invalid by the Court would require the curing of the invalidity found by this Court in the matter of allotment of government accommodation to former Chief Ministers. The defect found earlier persists.”, the Bench said.
Read the Judgment Here