The Supreme Court of India, comprising a bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R. Banumathi in the case of Lok Prahari Through Its General Secretary v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors. has struck down Section 4(3) of Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 whereby a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh could be allotted a government residence for his/her lifetime. Such person, who is a former Chief Minister of UP, is allotted the government residence subject to payment of rent, as is determined by the Estate Department of the State Government.
The petitioner had first approached the Hon’ble High Court of Allahabad against the former Chief Ministers who continued to occupy their official accommodation even after demitting office, which was a clear breach of Section 4 of the aforesaid act (the unamended Section as it had then existed). During the pendency of the said case before the Allahabad High Court a set of rules were framed to provide for the allotment of government accommodation to the former CMs. The High Court had disposed of the Writ Petition on the basis of a statement made on behalf of the State of UP that the former CMs would be allotted only type V bungalows on payment of rent.
Thereafter, the petitioner approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India which vide judgment dated 01.08.2016 declared the said rules to be in direct conflict with the provisions of Section 4 of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981.
After striking down the said rules, Section 4 of the Act was amended in the year 2016, whereby Sub-section 3 was added, which is as follows:
“(3) A government residence shall be allotted to a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, at his/her request, for his/her life time, on payment of such rent as may be determined from time to time by the Estate Department of the State Government.”
In the instant case, the petitioner represented by its General Secretary Shri S.N. Shukla, a retired IAS officer, challenged the amended Section 4 of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981, and the Supreme Court framed the following question for determination,
“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 State of UP argued before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India that the petitioner has approached the Court under article 32 of the Constitution of India, for which infringement of a fundamental right of a person is necessary and in the instant case there was no infringement of fundamental right of any person. They further stated that the said amendment is not ultra-vires Article 14 as there is there is an intelligible differentia to justify a separate and exclusive treatment to former Chief Ministers who form a class of their own.
The Supreme Court rejected both the arguments and observed that position has been changed regarding the theory of infringement of the fundamental rights of an individual citizen or non citizen to one of infringement of rights of a class. In fact, the above transformation is the foundation of what had developed as an independent and innovative stream of jurisprudence called “Public Interest Litigation” or class action. Along with the aforesaid shift in the judicial thinking, there has been an equally important shift from the classical test (classification test) for the purpose of enquiry with regard to infringement of the equality clause under Article 14 of the Constitution of India to, what may be termed, a more dynamic test of arbitrariness.
The Supreme Court observed that the allocation of government bungalows to former Chief Ministers as mentioned in Section 4(3) of the aforementioned act, would be clearly subject to judicial review on the touchstone of Article 14 of the Constitution of India as the bungalows constitute public property which is scarce and is meant for the use of the current holders of public offices. It further observed, that the Supreme Court had already struck down the Rules vide the 2016 judgment to cure the defect, which after the said amendment still persists, so, the impugned amendment can be construed to be an attempt to overreach the judgment of the Supreme Court in Lok Prahari whereby it struck down the said Rules.
The Supreme Court finally observed,
“38. 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.
39. Undoubtedly, 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. 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.
40. Consequently, we hold 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. We, therefore, hold that the aforesaid Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981 is ultra vires the Constitution of India as it transgresses the equality clause under Article 14. The writ petition in question, therefore, is allowed.”
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