Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Justice Hemant Gupta* and AS Bopanna, JJ has held that Kashmiri migrants, who were once Government employees, cannot retain Government accommodation for indefinite period on the ground that “they would return to the Valley when the situation will improve”.

The Court was deciding the case of where some Kashmiri migrants had occupied Government accommodation in Delhi and in National Capital Region on the strength of an order passed by the Delhi High Court in a judgment reported as Union of India v. Vijay Mam, 2012 SCC OnLine Del 3218, pursuant to which a rehabilitation scheme was framed by the Central Government on 28.3.2017 as modified on 19.5.2017.

The Court, however, noticed that since the Office Memorandum issued on 28.3.2017 was in terms of the order of the High Court of Delhi, which has not been approved by the Supreme Court vide order dated 5.8.2021, the entire basis of issuance of Office Memorandum falls flat as the very foundation of such Scheme stands knocked down.

It was held that the Office Memorandum allowing government accommodation to the retired Government employees who are Kashmiri Migrants did not meet the touchstone of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

“The Government houses/flats are meant for serving Government employees. Post retirement, the government employees including Kashmiri Migrants are granted pensionary benefits including monthly pension. The classification made in favour of Government employees who were Kashmiri Migrants stands on the same footing as that of other Government employees or public figures. There cannot be any justification on the basis of social or economic criteria to allow the Kashmiri Migrants to stay in Government accommodation for indefinite long period.”

Noticing that the compassion shown to Kashmiri Migrants has to be balanced with the expectations of the serving officers to discharge their duties effectively, bench said that the applicants are occupying the government accommodation at the cost of other Government servants who are waiting in queue for allotment of a government accommodation to discharge their official duties. The Government accommodation is meant for serving officers and cannot be taken as a recourse to stay in Government accommodation for the life time of the Government servants or his/her spouse.

“To say that they would return to the Valley when the situation will improve is an open-ended statement capable of being interpreted in different ways. The satisfaction of improvement of situation would be widely different by the erstwhile Government employees and the State. But in no case it can be countenanced that the former Government employee, may be a Kashmiri Migrant, is entitled to stay in a government accommodation for an indefinite period. Thus, we are unable to uphold the Office Memorandum and strike it down as being totally arbitrary and discriminatory.”

The Court went on to explain that in Para 2(ii) of the Scheme, Kashmiri Pandits were to be accommodated in Delhi for first five years starting from the date of their retirement and thereafter be shifted to National Capital Region. Hence, it would be reasonable if

  • Kashmiri Migrants are allowed government accommodation for a period of three years from the date of retirement so as to make alternative arrangements within such period.
  • If an alternative accommodation is not available for them at their instance, they are at liberty to move to the transit accommodation or to avail cash amount in lieu of transit accommodation.

“Thus, a government employee who is a Kashmiri Migrant would not be entitled to retain Government  accommodation for a period exceeding three years, may be in Delhi or in the National Capital Region or for that matter anywhere in the country.”

The Court further held that the three-years period can also be considered as cooling off period for the officers who were in active intelligence work so that they can resume normal life but the excuse of once working for intelligence agency is not a valid ground to occupy the Government accommodation for indefinite period.

[Omkar Nath Dhar v. Union of India, MISCELLANEOUS APPLICATION NO. 1468 OF 2021, decided on 07.10.2021]

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Counsels:

For applicants: Senior Advocate Bimal Roy Jad

For UOI: Madhavi Divan, Additional Solicitor General


*Judgment by: Justice Hemant Gupta

Know Thy Judge| Justice Hemant Gupta

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Division Bench of Hemant Gupta and A.S. Bopanna, JJ., expressed that

Government accommodation is only meant for in-service officers and not for the retirees or those who have demitted office.

The right to shelter does not mean right to government accommodation.

Challenge 

Decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has been challenged in the present matter.

Background

Single Bench allowed the petition of a Kashmiri migrant, respondent – Onkar Nath Dhar who shifted to Jammu in the year 1989 or so. He was transferred to the office of the Intelligence Bureau in Delhi. Later, he was transferred to Faridabad, wherein he was allotted a government accommodation. Respondent attained the age of superannuation in the year 2006.

Respondent on making a representation to the appellant was allowed to retain the government accommodation till the circumstances prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir improve and Government makes it possible for him to return to his native place.

An eviction order was passed against Dhar under Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupant) Act, 1971, but the same was stayed by the Additional District Judge, Delhi.

Later, the Single Judge Bench relied upon an order passed by this Court in J.L. Koul v. State of J&K, (2010) 1 SCC 371, wherein it was held that it was not possible for Dhar to return to his own State and that due to which eviction order shall be kept in abeyance. The same was affirmed by the Division Bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Supreme Court opined that the High Court Orders were unsustainable.

In view of the plethora of Judgments referred by the Court, Bench affirmed that

Government accommodation could not have been allotted to a person who had demitted office. No exception was carved out even in respect of the persons who held Constitutional posts at one point of time.

Therefore, decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court was erroneous on the basis of compassion showed to displaced persons on account of terrorist activities in the State.

Further, reasoning its decision, Bench stated that compassion could be shown for accommodating the displaced persons for one or two months but to allow them to retain the Government accommodation already allotted or to allot an alternative accommodation that too with a nominal licence fee defeats the very purpose of the Government accommodation which is meant for serving officers.

If a retired government employee have no residence, they have an option to avail transit accommodation or to receive cash compensation in the place of transit accommodation. 

Right to Shelter?

Elaborating more, the Court stated that the right of shelter is taken care of when alternative Transit accommodation is made available to the migrant to meet out the emergent situation.

Government accommodation is meant for serving officers and officials and not to the retirees as benevolence and distribution of largesse.

Policy of Centre to provide accommodation? | Terrorism in J&K

Answering in negative, Court stated that Centre or State do not have any policy to provide the accommodation to displaced persons on account of terrorism in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Adding to the above discussion, Bench held that there is no indefeasible right in any citizen for allotment of government accommodation on a nominal licence fee.

In view of the decision of J.L. Koul  v. State of J&K, (2010) 1 SCC 371  the Kashmiri migrants are entitled to transit accommodation and if transit accommodation could not be provided then money for residence and expenses.

Dhar and such like persons are not from the poorest section of the migrants but have worked in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. To say that they are enforcing their right to shelter only till such time the conditions are conducive for their safe return is wholly illusory.

Concluding the matter, Supreme Court found that the orders of the High Courts were wholly arbitrary and irrational, therefore the present appeal was allowed.

Though, the Court directed respondent-Dhar to hand over vacant physical possession of the premises on or before 31-10-2021, i.e., after 15 years of his attaining the age of superannuation. [Union of India v. Onkar Nath Dhar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 574, decided on 5-08-2021]