The Supreme Court’s direction to all the former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh to vacate their government bungalows which the erstwhile Samajwadi Party government of Akhilesh Yadav had allowed them to occupy for life deserves to be welcomed wholeheartedly.
The government order was preposterous and reflected why the framers of the Constitution had provided for checks and balances between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to stave off arbitrary exercise of power.
Appropriately, a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi called the amendment made by the Uttar Pradesh assembly at the behest of the Akhilesh government illegal and unlawful. It ruled that such laws create a separate class. The court made it clear that once a person leaves office, he or she is not entitled to hold any special privilege. This is in conformity with simple logic and propriety.
The conduct of the Akhilesh government in this matter was indeed reprehensible. It took refuge under the pretext that a lot of people come to call on these high personages even after they cease to be chief minister and their security requires that they continue to occupy the plush government accommodation for all times.
The manner in which legislators abuse their position to feather their own nests is amply borne out by such examples of misuse of authority. Had a public-spirited NGO not gone to court challenging this amendment, the former chief ministers, including Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh (current Union Home Minister), Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Akhilesh would have continued to live in the palatial bungalows at cost to the public.
That even now these leaders of yesteryears, some of them in positions today as well will use all kinds of stratagems to stick on to government accommodation is a hard reality. It is indeed small wonder that politicians in general evoke public derision and contempt because of the shenanigans of such unscrupulous leaders.
A detailed investigation would predictably show that astronomical amounts must have been spent by the government on the upkeep of these bungalows over the years, including extensive modifications to make them plush. When it is public money that is being spent, politicians have no qualms in demanding all kinds of changes to beautify such abodes.
While it is primarily the State government of the day that needs to be blamed, it is depressing that these leaders who continue to occupy the bungalows have not packed their bags and given up. Evidently, they are still hoping that the apex court order could somehow be circumvented.
The Yogi Adityanath government that is in the saddle in UP currently must inquire and evict any other ministers and bureaucrats who may be retaining government accommodation allotted to them years ago, through use of unprincipled clout. Those public servants who abet such blatant misuse of authority must also be punished as partners in the unholy nexus.
In the current case, the apex court bench made it clear that the chief minister, once he or she demits 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.
Although the matter referred to the UP Act, the court said during the hearing that it had thought it appropriate to “inform” other states and Union territories who may have similar provisions. While most states did not respond, Bihar and Assam have such provisions by way of executive instructions.
It is true that in the present federal structure there is no way for the Centre to enforce such norms and discipline, but the Centre must impress upon states to honour the apex court’s UP order in letter and spirit.