SC: Former Chief Ministers cannot Occupy Government Bungalow

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May 07, 2018

Case name: Lok Prahari v. The State of Uttar Pradesh & ors.

Date of Judgment: May 07, 2018

The seminal issue taken up by the Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the case was that “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?”

In the case, the Petitioner organization alleged that former Chief Ministers of the State of Uttar Pradesh continued to occupy their official accommodation even after demitting office by virtue of Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 (hereinafter referred to as the Act of 1981).

Here it would be relevant to mention that Section 4 of the Act of 1981 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 aforesaid Section 4(3), as amended, has been questioned by the writ petitioner, which claims to be “committed to upholding of the Constitution and enforcement of the Rule of law”.

Bench’s Verdict

The Apex Court in the case while analyzing the cardinal principles of equality and fraternity enshrined in our Constitution made the following observations in the case:

  • That the allocation of government bungalows to constitutional functionaries enumerated in Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act after such functionaries demit public office(s) would be clearly subject to judicial review on the touchstone of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
  • That such bungalows constitute public property which by itself is scarce and meant for use of current holders of public offices as manifested by the institution of Section 4-A in the 1981 Act by the Amendment Act of 1997.
  • That the questions relating to allocation of such property, 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.
  • 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 ‘Doctrine of Equality’ which emerges from the concepts of justice, fairness must guide the State in the distribution/allocation of the same. 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.
  • That 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. 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 test of reasonable classification, therefore, has to fail.
  • That not only that the legislation i.e. Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act recognizing former holders of public office as a special class of citizens, viewed in the aforesaid 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.

In view of the aforesaid, the Supreme 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. Hence, Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 has been held to be ultra vires the Constitution of India as it transgresses the equality clause under Article 14.

The entire case can be accessed here.