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In a welcome move, a division bench of the Patna High Court today ruled that former state chief ministers cannot occupy official bungalows allotted to them while occupying office on a lifetime basis. The bench, comprising Chief Justice SP Shahi and Justice Anjana Mishra, directed all former chief ministers as well as incumbent Nitish Kumar to immediately vacate the official bungalows allotted to them during their previous stints as chief ministers of Bihar. Nitish Kumar continues to occupy the bungalow allotted to him in his last term as chief minister, while living in another official bungalow.

The court order came on a public interest litigation filed by activist Nitish Kumar, who had asked why former chief ministers continue to occupy government bungalows after they have demitted office.

During the previous hearing on January 7, the Patna High Court had issued notices to the Bihar government and sought a reply within four weeks on this issue. In the previous hearing, the High Court had also taken suo moto cognisance of an office memorandum dated March 22, 2016, of the Building Construction Department, Government of Bihar, which allows for lifetime allotment of fully furnished bungalows (with all facilities including maintenance) to former chief ministers of Bihar. Questioning the ultra vires of this provision, the bench had orally remarked: “The said office memorandum appears to be prima facie against public policy and public interest as it practically creates a lifetime occupancy to public property at the unlimited cost of public exchequer in the name of security and other facilities that are available to former chief ministers. Such facilities do not appear to be constitutionally permissible….”

The bench had also observed that the provision appears to be in violation of the Bihar Ministers’ (Salary and Allowances), Act, 2006, and the Bihar Legislative Assembly (Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members) Act, 2006, which limit the allotment only to the tenure during which a person is either a Minister or a person entitled for allotment under the time limit prescribed under the said Act and the rules framed thereunder.

It’s pertinent to note that even the Supreme Court had, in 2018, in Lok Prahari Through General Secretary vs The State of Uttar Pradesh, struck down an Uttar Pradesh law which had a similar provision as ultra vires the Constitution and held that former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh cannot retain government accommodation after demitting office.

The judgment comes days after the Supreme Court asked former deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav, son of RJD Supreme Lalu Yadav, to vacate the house he had occupied as deputy chief minister under Nitish Kumar. After the RJD split away from the JDU, he had refused to vacate the house and moved the High Court which asked him to vacate.

—India Legal Bureau

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