The UP government appears to have wasted no time in approving changes to a piece of legislation that allows it to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling barring former chief ministers from occupying government bungalows. The changes will also involve amendments to the Uttar Pradesh Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981, sanctioning a three-fold hike in wages for the CM and his ministers. Given that the average salary for UP ministers and the CM is considerably less than that in many other states, no one can have any quarrel with their wages being raised to more realistic levels. But nothing justifies former chief ministers occupying prime real estate and holding on to bungalows in a country where millions do not have a roof over their heads.
Read | Roofless in Delhi Part 1
Read | Roofless in Delhi Part 2
This practice of expecting government largesse extends to most politicians both at the Centre and states. In other democratic countries, politicians who have demitted office get a pension but no other perks like free air and train travel and housing as many here get. There is also the unjustifiable practice of politicians holding on to government accommodation after they have left office, forcing the government of the day to serve them notices, even to move the courts in order to get them to vacate. A case in point is the former wife of a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir moving court to stay in official accommodation, something the court has not permitted. In some cases, the relatives of politicians have sought to take over government bungalows as memorials to deceased leaders. This whole sense of entitlement has not been challenged in any serious manner by successive governments. Rather, politicians have been allowed to make rules as they go along in order to corner state largesse at the cost of the taxpayer.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who was once chief minister of UP, continues to retain a government house there, as does the SP chief and former chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Politicians must understand, at least in enlightened self-interest, that people resent this appropriation of perks and privileges when no such safety net exists for the ordinary person once out of a job. The courts have consistently moved against special rights for our elected representatives who in turn have usually found ways to get around this. Politicians cannot expect to be treated as a separate category from the people they represent, which is what the UP CM is signalling with his latest move to subvert the SC’s ruling.
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal