The Akhilesh Yadav government must call off its move to amend the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981. The proposal cleared by the state cabinet on Wednesday is aimed at circumventing a Supreme Court directive that found allotment of government bungalows to all former chief ministers for their lifetime a “largesse” without any “element of reasonableness”. This largesse, provided through an executive order, was in clear contravention of the UP law that insists that a CM could retain government accommodation only for a fortnight after she demits office. Hence, the bid to amend the law.
Not surprisingly, political parties are silent or acquiescent on this issue. At least six former chief ministers are beneficiaries of the UP government’s generosity and they belong to different political streams. Incidentally, one of them is India’s home minister who also lives in a state property in the national capital, while two others are governors residing in palatial official residences elsewhere. Why should these eminences also be provided spacious bungalows at public cost in Lucknow? UP, however, is not an exception in being largehearted towards its former rulers. Bihar and Jharkhand have a similar policy of extending the privilege of free housing to their ex-chief ministers. Such privileges have been questioned in the past and in Jharkhand, they were withdrawn once by the governor while the state was under president’s rule only to be restored when a popular government was sworn in. The unreasonable desire for real estate at the taxpayer’s expense comes from a sense of entitlement that urgently needs to be punctured. Chief ministers are paid well and on demitting office, receive reasonable pension. In fact, this is the situation in a majority of states in India and was so in UP and Bihar as well until the 1990s.
The craving for freebies, especially real estate, is a throwback to a feudal order that thrived on patronage and privilege. This model of governance has outlived its time and needs to be laid to rest. That political office is seen as a means for perpetual state patronage militates against the democratic spirit, especially in a country hardpressed for resources for the aam aadmi. The political parties of UP must respect the message in the apex court’s directive.