Kamal Nath, soon after assuming the office of Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, has reportedly allotted a government bungalow to Digvijay Singh and to his immediate predecessor, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The allotment, as reported, is in flagrant violation and flies in the face of the Supreme Court judgment in the Lok Prahari case, delivered on May 7, 2018, whereby Section 4(3) of the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1981, entitling former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh to government accommodation, was struck down as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has in unequivocal terms held that once such persons demit the office earlier held by them, there is nothing to distinguish them from the common man. It has further held that public office held by them becomes a matter of history and cannot form the basis of a reasonable classification so as to entitle them to the benefit of special privileges.
A similar legislation, rather more benevolent than the aforesaid UP Act, was passed by the Madhya Pradesh legislature by amending Section 5 of the Madhya Pradesh (Mantri vetan tatha bhatta) Adhiniyam, 1972, which provided that an ex-chief minister shall be entitled throughout his life without payment of rent to the use of furnished residence equivalent to that of a minister.
Taking recourse to the said amended provision of Section 5, the then chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, allotted government accommodation to former chief ministers Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur, Kailash Joshi and Digvijay Singh. This provision, too, was challenged.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court, relying on the Supreme Court’s striking down of Section 5, as amended, directed the cancellation of the allotments so made. However, Chouhan was not the one to give up. He, so it seems, exercised his discretionary power and allocated the same accommodation to all those mentioned above except Digvijay Singh.
Thus, the process of such irregular allotments was, to put it mildly, set in motion by then CM Chouhan.
Taking a cue from his predecessor, Kamal Nath at the earliest given opportunity rectified the wrong that was done to Digvijay Singh. But unlike Chouhan, he has not disturbed the apple cart. In fact, he has taken care to extend similar benefits to Chouhan, lest any finger is pointed at him. The net result is that it is a win-win situation for all the former chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, whether they are in office or out of it. And the cost for all this, unfortunately, is borne by the taxpayer.
We, the people of India, must ask our present-day rulers: Was this the egalitarian society our forefathers had conceived of, where chosen representatives will use every trick in the rule book to favour their own?
The discretionary power, which Chouhan and Kamal Nath have supposedly exercised, is to be resorted to with circumspection to meet extraordinary situations. It is not meant to negate the effects of judgments rendered by Supreme Court and high courts, that may be unpalatable to a government or its leaders.
It is quite clear that when it comes to their own perks and privileges, political parties drown their differences and act in unison. While day in and out, they swear by Constitution and the law, they do not bat an eyelid when they choose to ignore the essence and spirit of the same Constitution and the law. For our political class charity really does begin from home.