Bungalow Mahagathbandhan: Real estate has united UP's bitter rivals
Uttar Pradesh's warring political parties have closed ranks to allow their former chief ministers to enjoy the luxury of government bungalows.
Sinking political differences, the Yogi Adityanath regime has filed written submissions in the Supreme Court stoutly defending the Akhilesh Yadav government's amendment of the UP Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in November 2016 to permit former chief ministers to stay in government bungalows.
The change in rules was brought about to circumvent a Supreme Court judgment that barred ex-CMs from staying in government houses.
If the bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi accepts the Yogi government's arguments, the beneficiary would include not just Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati (the two continue to hold on to government bungalows even after their term as chief ministers) but also the BJP's Rajnath Singh, Kalyan Singh and Narayan Dutt Tiwari.
"The grant of such a benefit to a former chief minister under the amended rules is a valid classification as the same is a class in itself. Former chief minister, once a holder of a very high public office, is always identifiable as a dignitary and can hence enjoy special benefits too," the government submitted.
"The holder of such high posts in a democratic nation as ours it becomes imperative that the even after demitting the offices certain privileges are provided to such persons. The holders of other high constitutional posts have been classified as separate class even after demitting offices, like former Chief Justices and judges of High Court and Supreme Court, President, Prime Minster and a number of privileges in terms of pension, health benefits, travel allowances, staff, etc, is provided. Thus, classification in present case for purpose of providing of government residence cannot be held to be bad," it said.
Citing a 1996 Supreme Court judgment, the written statement says that a law made by the legislature can be struck down by courts only on the ground of lack of legislative competence or for being unconstitutional.
"An enactment cannot be struck down on the ground that court thinks it unjustified. Parliament and the legislatures, composed as they are of the representatives of the people, are supposed to know and be aware of the needs of the people and what is good and bad for them. The court cannot sit in judgment over their wisdom," it adds.
The Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by NGO Lok Prahari challenging the amendment of rules, terming it a blatant violation of the Supreme Court order.
Amicus curiae (senior lawyer appointed by the court to assist it) Gopal Subramanium has already given a report that not only former chief ministers, but even former Presidents and Prime Ministers should not be allotted government bungalows.
"It is submitted that once an office-holder (President, PM, CM, etc) demits office, he or she ceases to be an occupant of that public office and is, therefore, shorn of all its adornments. He or she reverts to being a citizen of India, and ought to be granted no greater privilege than that accorded to other citizens of India, except for the minimal courtesies of protocol, pension and other regular post-retirement benefits," Subramanium's note said.
"Public property is not to be frittered away to private citizens, notwithstanding the high offices they may have previously occupied. Any provision of law that grants accommodation to the former holders of public office is ultra vires the Constitution as breaching Article 14 (right to equality)," added Subramanium's note.
Expanding the ambit of plea to ban ex-CMs of Uttar Pradesh from occupying government bungalows, the Supreme Court recently said it was also considering if it could be extended to former Presidents and Prime Ministers, as suggested by the amicus curiae.
"It is necessary to hear law officers of the central government and of the state governments where such legislation (to circumvent earlier SC ban) has been enacted," the apex court bench said on January 17. The next date of hearing has been fixed as March 13, 2018.