Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday declared void certain amendments made under the Rajasthan Ministers’ Salaries (Amendment) Act, 2017. The amendments, made when the previous Vasundhara Raje government was in power, introduced changes in the Rajasthan Ministers’ Salaries Act, 1956.
Essentially, the changes ensured that former Chief Ministers of the state would get a government residence, a car, telephone, and secretarial and other staff for the remainder of their lives.
The petitioner had challenged the constitutionality of sections 7BB and 11(2) of the 2017 Act. He had said that a financially backward state did not have the required resources, and that it would be unfair to spend public money on “luxurious lifestyles” of politicians. Counsel for the petitioner argued that “having regard to the egalitarian principle underlined by Article 14,… ‘freebies’ would be distribution of largesse, not based on any rationale”.
To individuals who have served as Chief Minister for five consecutive years, section 7BB of the Act guaranteed for the remainder of their lives, a government residence of the same type and the same facilities and concessions to which a serving CM is entitled. In case a government residence is not available or the individual does not use the residence, they would be reimbursed a fixed monthly amount. Such individuals were also entitled to a car provided by the state for use by them and the members of their family, a phone, and secretarial and other staff.
Section 11(2) said that a former CM who was receiving facilities immediately before the commencement of the Act “shall continue to avail such facilities for the remainder of his life even if he has not served as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for an uninterrupted term of five years”.
A bench of Chief Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Prakash Gupta said that the amendments amounted to “appropriation of state wealth for no reason other than having held a high elective office”.
The court observed: “All power is public trust, to be held for and on behalf of the people and for their benefit. Once the holders of such power stray from the path of rectitude and help themselves to public largesse, the essence of the democratic principle and equality is violated. One is reminded of George Orwell’s apocryphal portrayal of a distorted meaning of equality in his much-celebrated Animal Farm— that all animals are born equal but some are more equal than others.”
Assuring former CMs “significant largesse for life amounts to saying that such individuals are more equal than the other public servants and citizens of India”, the court said.