Just Another Common Man

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 May 2018 11:53:28

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 IN ITS very forthright judgement delivered on May 7, 2018, in the case - Lok Prahari through its General Secretary v. The State of Uttar Pradesh and others, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R. Banumathi, at the Supreme Court, have ruled that when former Chief Ministers (like in Uttar Pradesh) relinquish the public office held by them earlier, there is nothing to distinguish them from a common man.The apex court has underlined that, after that stage, the public office held by them becomes a matter of history and, therefore, cannot form the basis of a reasonable classification to categorise previous holders of public office as a special category of persons entitled to the benefit of special privileges. The test of reasonable classification, therefore, has to fail.


The case in this petition had a somewhat chequered history. It will suffice to recapitulate that as former Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, such persons continued to occupy their official accommodation even after demitting office, in clear breach of Section 4 of the 1981 Act, as it had then existed, a writ petition was filed before the Allahabad High Court by this petitioner.During pendency of the said writ petition, a set of Rules - UP Ex-Chief Minister’s Residence Allotment Rules, 1997, were framed to provide for allotment of Government accommodation to former Chief Ministers. The writ petition was accordingly amended to challenge the validity of the provisions of the 1997 Rules. However, the same was closed by the HC on a statement made by the State Government that former Chief Ministers will be henceforth allotted only Type V bungalows and that too on payment of rent etc. In this situation, this petitioner had filed writ petition 657/2004, in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the 1997 Rules. On August 1, 2016, in response to that petition, the Supreme Court struck down the 1997 Rules on the ground that the provision for accommodation for ex-Chief Ministers as made under those Rules was in direct conflict with the provisions of section 4 of the 1981 Act.


Section 4 of the 1981 Act was amended in the year 2016. Under section 4(3) brought in by the 2016 amendment, former Chief Ministers of the State became entitled to allotment of Government accommodation for their life-time. The validity of the section 4(3), as amended, has been questioned by the writ petitioner, a registered body, which claims to be “committed to upholding of the Constitution and enforcement of the Rule of law”. The 1981 Act was amended by the 1990 Amendment by insertion of sub-section (1-A) to section 4. By another Amendment in 1997, section 4-A was inserted in the Act. The Court has noted at this stage that while section 4(1-A) of the 1981 Act was deleted by the 2016 Amendment, section 4-A continues to remain on the statute book. After noting the salient features of the provisions of the 1981 Act, the Court summarised the question, which arose for consideration for determination in these proceedings as follows:


“Whether retention of official accommodation by the functionaries mentioned in section 4(3) of the 1981 Act, after they had demitted office violate the equality clause guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of India.”
The registered petitioner-body’s Secretary. S. N. Shukla is a retired IAS officer. Though he had advanced his submissions with great clarity, yet, having regard to the importance of the question, the Court thought it proper to take the assistance of Gopal Subramanium, the senior counsel. Though the issue in the present proceedings was strictly confined to the provisions of the 1981 Act, having regard to the fact that there may be similar provisions in force in different States/Union Territories and also in the Union, the Court had thought it proper to inform, through the amicus curiae, the law officers of the Union and all the States/Union Territories of the pendency of the present writ petition and the issues arising therein.
The Central Government’s counsel has intimated to the Court that Government accommodation is provided to former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Prime Ministers of the country. In the case-Shiv Sagar Tiwari v. Union of India and Others - (1997) 1 SCC 444, the issue had come up for consideration before the Court, wherein the Court had approved the action taken in the matter of provision of official accommodation to those dignitaries, after demitting office by them, in the evening of life.


The republican liberty and the doctrine of equality is the central feature of the Indian democracy. 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 and when all privileges, rights and benefits conferred on holders of public office are reasonable, rational and proportionate. Here, the Supreme Court has recapitulated Seven Principles of Public Life Report by Lord Nolan, which find mention in the Court’s decision of the case - Vineet Narain and Others v. Union of India and Another - (1998) 1 SCC 226. The Court has observed in paragraph 55 of the report in Vineet Narain decision that “These principles of public life are of general application in every democracy and one is expected to bear them in mind while scrutinising the conduct of every holder of a public office.”


The seven principles of public life are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.According to the Court, material resources of the community must be distributed to sub-serve the common good. Every action of the public authority should be guided by public interest, free from arbitrariness, the process of distribution of natural resources must be guided by the constitutional principles including the doctrine of equality and larger public good.The questions relating to allocation of such property (Government bungalows in this case), therefore, undoubtedly, are questions of public character and, therefore, the same would be amenable for being adjudicated on the touchstone of reasonable classification as well as arbitrariness. The allotment of Government bungalow to former CMs to be occupied during their life-time would not be guided by the constitutional principle of equality.


Not only that the legislation - Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances, and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 recognising former holders of public office as a special class of citizens, viewed in this context, would appear to be 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.
Consequently, the Court held that section 4(3) of the 1981 Act cannot pass the test of Article 14 of the Constitution of India and is, therefore, liable to be struck down. Therefore, the Court held that Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act, as amended in 2016, is ultra vires the Constitution of India as it transgresses the equality clause under Article 14 and allowed the writ petition.