Uttaranchal High Court: A Division Bench of Ramesh Ranganathan, CJ and Ramesh Chandra Khulbe, J. declared the Uttarakahand Former Chief Ministers Facility (Residential and other Facilities) Act, 2019 as void as it extended various facilities to former Chief Ministers free of cost and hence suffers from manifest arbitrariness and is ultra vires Article 14 of the Constitution.
The factual matrix of the case is that in March 2019 a Division Bench of the High Court in WP PIL No. 90 of 2010 held the government bungalows to be “public property” and directed the Ex-Chief Ministers to pay the market rent for the bungalows allotted to them and various other amenities provided to them by the state after they had demitted office as Chief Minister, at the cost of the public exchequer. However, in January 2020, the Uttarakhand Government enacted the impugned legislation, to exempt the former CMs from paying rent for accommodation in Government bungalows. Hence the instant PIL was filed by the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, an NGO, against the 2019 impugned legislation stating it as an act of ‘statutory overruling’.
Court while relying on the Supreme Court Judgment, Lok Prahiri v. State of U.P. ,(2016) 8 SCC 389 made the following observations:
- Locus Standi of the Petitioner– The writ Petition is devoid of malice or personal grudge against the respondent-Ex-Chief Ministers, and the jurisdiction is invoked in larger public interest, no apparent reason for non maintainability of the present writ petition.
- Legislation, in violation of Part-III of the Constitution, is void and unenforceable as enshrined in Article 13(2) of the Constitution of India: The court does not annul or repeal the statute if it finds it in conflict with Part-III of the Constitution. It simply refuses to recognize it, and determines the rights of the parties just as if such a statute had no application.
- Article 14 requires State action to be based on valid and relevant principles applicable alike to all similarly placed: The legislative exercise, recognizing former chief ministers as a special class of citizens, is based on irrelevant and legally unacceptable considerations, unsupported by any constitutional sanctity.
- Article 14 forbids class legislation but not reasonable classification: The position of the Chief Minister of the state cannot stand on the same footing like that of President, Vice president or Prime Minister who have held high constitutional offices and are accommodated in government premises after they demit office hence extending such benefits to former chief ministers were held to be unfair.
- Courts would not sit in judgment over the wisdom of legislative policy: The legislation does not become unconstitutional merely because there is another view, but only when there is a clear violation of a constitutional provision. If two views are possible, one making the provision in the statute constitutional, and the other making it unconstitutional, the former should be preferred.
- A valid classification must be reasonable and should be based on a just objective and it does not need to be mathematically precise: The allotment of government bungalows, to be occupied by a chief minister during his life time post his demitting office, is not guided by the constitutional principle of equality and does not stand the test of reasonable classification of differential intelligentsia, reasonable object and nexus between the two.
- Law enacted to overrule a judicial decision is violative of the doctrine of Separation of Powers: The court held that any attempt by the Legislature to enact a law only to overrule a judicial decision is violative of the doctrine of separation of powers, an entrenched principle in the Indian Constitution.
- Public interest is the paramount consideration in dealing with public property: The allotment of government bungalows for a consideration lesser than the market rent is illegal, as the state has no right to fritter away government property in favour of private persons, which the former chief ministers are, after they demit office, without adequate consideration i.e the market rent and it is thus not in larger public interest.
- The standard rent fixed by the state government is for serving government servants, and is not applicable to those who have retired from service. The question of applying the same yardstick to former chief ministers, and in permitting them to pay rent far less than the market rent, is arbitrary and illegal.
- A chief minister, once he demits office, is on par with the common man, though, by virtue of the office he held earlier, he may be entitled to security and other protocols but once such persons demit the public office earlier held by them, there is nothing to distinguish them from the common man.
Thus, in view of the above facts and observations, the provisions of Uttarakhand Former Chief Ministers Facility (Residential and other facilities) Act, 2019 was declared unconstitutional. [Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttarakhand, 2020 SCC OnLine Utt 255 , decided on 09-06-2020]