New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday set aside a provision of a law that allowed government accommodation to former Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers, terming it "arbitrary and discriminatory" as it violated the concept of equality.
A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said once a Chief Minister demits office, there was nothing to distinguish him or her from a common man.
Setting aside the provision of the law passed by the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, the bench said such bungalows constitute "public property which by itself is scarce and meant for use of current holders of public offices".
The apex court struck down Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981, as amended in 2016, allowing former Chief Ministers of the state to be entitled to allotment of government accommodation for their life time.
The amendment was introduced by then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's government in 2016.
In its judgment, the top court said that "natural resources, public lands and 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," it added.
The bench said amended Section 4(3) of the 1981 Act recognised former holders of public office as a "special class of citizens", which is "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," the bench added.
"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 categorise previous holders of public office as a special category of persons entitled to the benefit of special privileges," the judgment stated.
"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.
The top court order came on a plea by NGO Lok Prahari challenging amendments to the Uttar Pradesh legislation allowing former Chief Ministers of the state to continue occupying government bungalows.