JAIPUR: In a landmark verdict, the Rajasthan High Court has ruled that former chief ministers of the state cannot avail life-long facilities like government bungalow, telephone, and car. In its ruling on Wednesday, the High Court termed the Rajasthan Ministers' Salaries (Amendment) Act 2017 as "illegal" and ‘unconstitutional’.
While delivering the verdict, the division bench of Chief Justice S. Ravindra Bhatt and Justice Prakash Gupta also observed that Rajasthan is an economically backward state and such life-long facilities for former CMs was virtually a ‘misuse of public funds’.
The High Court judgement came on a plea by veteran journalist Milapchand Dandiya who had challenged the law that gave life-long facilities to former CMs.
According to the plea, former Chief Ministers of Rajasthan are given lifelong facilities such as government bungalow, car, driver, telephone services and a staff of 10.
Dandiya''s plea, however, questioned the Rajasthan law referring to a Supreme Court order that quashed a similar Uttar Pradesh legislation, which granted permanent accommodation to the state's former chief ministers.
The verdict now is a major setback and an embarrassment for former CM Vasundhara Raje who had played a vital role in enacting the Rajasthan Law in her tenure through an amendment in the Rajasthan Ministers' Salaries Act, 1956.
The new law made even former chief ministers of Rajasthan eligible for a life-long government accommodation either in Jaipur or in any district headquarter if they had completed a five-year term as CM.
Besides a government bungalow, the law even gave life-long facilities such as a car, driver, telephone services and a staff of 10 to former chief ministers of the state.
Among those who had strongly opposed this law was Ghanshyam Tiwari, the rebel BJP MLA who had even launched a protest against the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for not vacating her civil lines bungalow which was not the official CM residence. Expressing his delight at the verdict now, Tiwari says: “I greatly welcome this verdict. Just as I had said that Vasundhara Raje’s effort was illegal, the court has also upheld that spirit and termed her move as unconstitutional.”
Senior leaders in the BJP are embarrassed by the verdict but officially they are trying to also apportion some blame to the ruling Congress. As Rajendra Rathore, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly remarked: “We will read the judgement and abide by the same. But ensuring its implementation or reviewing the verdict is a matter in the hands of the state government. The practice of giving special facilities to ex-CMs was originally started by the earlier Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot.”
Former chief ministers Vasundhara Raje and Jagannath Pahadiya are among those leaders who are currently taking benefits under this controversial law. But after this verdict, Raje may now have to vacate the bungalow that she has occupied in Jaipur's Civil Lines since 2008.
However, in an interaction with the media after the verdict, Gehlot indicated that Raje’s seniority will be respected: “ Even before this High Court verdict, the Supreme Court had also given similar rulings. Our government will see what facilities we can or cannot give to senior leaders in the state. I don’t think there is any co-relation between this verdict and the bungalow that Vasundhara Raje occupies. We have to remember that Raje is a two-time CM and currently a senior MLA. Our government will allocate bungalows keeping in mind the principle of seniority.”