HC asks state why order on benefits to ex-CMs not obeyed

The Rajasthan high court issued notice to the state government and state chief secretary (by name) on Monday over contempt of its previous order quashing provisions of a 2017 law under which former chief ministers were provided rent-free government accommodation, a car, a telephone, and a 10-member staff, including a driver, for the remainder of their lives.

HC has sought replies from the state in six weeks over the contempt.

A division bench of justices Govardhan Bardhar and Abhay Chaturvedi issued the notices on Monday on the contempt petition filed by Vimal Chand Choudhary on behalf of journalist Milap Chand Dandia, on whose petition the earlier order was passed on September 4 this year. Choudhary wrote to the chief secretary for the implementation of the order.

“The government did not send us any reply for two months, forcing us to file a contempt petition,” the lawyer said.

In September, a division bench of the then chief justice S Ravindra Bhat and justice Prakash Gupta called sections 7BB and 11 of the Rajasthan Ministers Salaries Act, 2017, “arbitrary” and “void”. Dandia had filed public interest litigation challenging the constitutional validity of the provisions.

The bench said the sections amounted to arrogating former chief ministers to the status of “a ruling elite” by assuring them significant largesse for life. “The two sections are arbitrary, contrary to Article 14 [equality before the law] of the Constitution of India, and void,” it added.

Dandia’s lawyer, Choudhary, cited Article 14 and added assuring rent-free accommodation and other perks in the form of “freebies” amounted be the distribution of largesse. He said it was not based on any rationale. “By no stretch of logic or reason can a former chief minister be classified as different from any other public servant. Granting such benefits would fly in the face of settled jurisprudence that state largesse cannot be given out for no reason,” he argued.

In his petition, Dandia said the perks put an extra burden of about Rs 1.5 crore per annum on the state exchequer.

It cited norms and said they provide only for payment of salaries and allowances to the members of legislature and ministers.

There is no specific provision for residences and conveyance allowances for them, it added.

He argued that it is not within the domain of the state legislature to make provisions for residential accommodation, staff, cars, and telephones for former chief ministers.

The Supreme Court last year quashed a similar law in Uttar Pradesh saying a chief minister’s retention of official accommodation after demitting office violates the equality clause that Constitution’s Article 14 guarantees.

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