Overruling politicians’ decisions granting houses to themselves sends a strong signal
Politicians might fight each other in elections, but when it comes to their perks, they are a feisty and united lot, which is why the Uttar Pradesh Government’s lawyers — a Government mind you that is led by Yogi Adityanath and the Bharatiya Janata Party — argued for an amendment that had been passed by the previous Samajwadi Party Government of Akhilesh Yadav that gave housing to previous Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers for life. The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, struck down the amendment saying that once a Chief Minister demits office, he/she returns to being a “common man” and the public office held by them becomes “a matter of history”. Indeed, it is not just Uttar Pradesh, but a practice in several States — from north to south and east to west — where the State takes over the responsibility of housing their former premiers.
The Supreme Court is right. Why should former Chief Ministers, or any former leader be housed by the State? An exception has been made for those whose lives are under threat, Special Protection Group (SPG) protectees, such as former Prime Ministers and in the case of Sonia Gandhi, their families which the Supreme Court themselves had ruled on in 1997 in a three-judge bench. However, it has become a norm for former leaders to treat the Government apparatus as their own and abuse the system. The adopted son of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Vikramaditya Singh, has been living on in the bungalow allotted to the former Vice President in Jaipur despite Shekhawat’s death in 2010 and his widow Suraj Kanwar passing away in 2015. Another example was the violence threatened by Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh when he was asked to vacate his official bungalow on Tughlak Road because he considered it his “right”, of course, he beat a hasty retreat out of the house once it was certain that it was a battle he could not win. Even though there are notable exceptions such as Tripura’s former Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar who made his economic deprivation an election issue, the public at large considers most politicians wealthy enough to afford their post-office housing. After all, if they wear Hublot watches and fancy outfits, they are certain to be able to afford their own housing. In case they cannot, their political organisations owe it to them to find them housing.
Politicians and bureaucrats should not be entitled to post-service housing, many of them save a lot of money and are paid well enough to afford their own private housing. The establishment of group housing societies with subsidised land makes it even easier for them to build houses. After a lifetime of Government service, this is a fair deal and most bureaucrats retire to such societies for their golden years. However, politicians, particularly senior ones, somehow do not believe that they should ride into the sunset and even if they do, they want the state to subsidise that ride. Thankfully, that free ride has been stopped by the Supreme Court. However, this judgement only looked at the politicians from one state, the Supreme Court ought to explore how rules are being bent by politicians of all hues in other States in the Union as well as at the Centre. Official housing should be just that, used for official purposes and while you are in office. Once you cease to be in office, the housing should also cease.