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When Supreme Court let ex-Prime Ministers, Vice-Presidents keep govt homes (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance)

The Supreme Court has struck down a provision in an Uttar Pradesh law that allowed former chief ministers to retain their official accommodation even after the end of their terms — a ruling that is expected to affect other states that have similar provisions.

During the hearing, the central government submitted that accommodation was provided to former Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Prime Ministers, and that this had been approved by the Supreme Court in the Shiv Sagar Tiwari vs Union of India and Others case in 1997. What was this case, and what were the issues on that occasion?

The petition
Supreme Court lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwari filed the petition based on a news item published in The Indian Express of September 5, 1994, which reported that a son had died after his father was forced to vacate government quarters. The petition alleged various anomalies in the allocation of government accommodation, including out-of-turn allotments and unauthorized occupation.

Gupta Committee
On July 31, 1996, the apex court constituted a three-member Committee headed by D P Gupta, the then Solicitor General of India, to examine all aspects of the matter. Other members of the committee were M S Srinivasan, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment, and K T S Tulsi, the then Additional Solicitor General. The Committee submitted its report on September 26, 1996.

Minister fined
On October 11, 1996, the court issued notice to Sheila Kaul, who was Urban Development Minister at the relevant time, asking why she should not be told to pay damages for illegal allotments made by her concerning 58 shops/stalls. The court subsequently ordered her to pay Rs 60 lakh as exemplary damages.

President, PM, etc.
One of the questions before the court was whether holders of political offices like President, Vice-President and Prime Minister, should be accommodated in government quarters after they demitted office.

The Bench of Justices K Singh and B L Hansaria answered this in the affirmative. It held, “keeping in view the very high constitutional position occupied by the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister, we feel no difficulty in stating that they should be accommodated in government premises after demitting of office by them, so that problem of suitable residence does not trouble them in the evening of life. What should be the terms of the same is a matter to be decided by the Government.”

Damages, instructions
Based on the Gupta Committee’s findings, the court ordered several evictions. It directed that IAS, IPS, IFS and other officers who were occupying General Pool quarters despite being eligible for quarters in the Tenure Pool, though not actually allotted, should also be evicted. The out-of-turn allottees were required to pay licence fees, and those who were denied government accommodation despite being eligible were awarded compensation.

The Bench called for construction of more government quarters, saying “after all, it is dearth of accommodation and resultant long waiting period which makes employees move around the power corridor for out-of-turn allotments”.

(Adapted from The Indian Express)

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