Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Supreme Court's anger, Bihar Governor and Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Act

Bihar Governor Buta Singh vacated the bungalow in New Delhi after the rebuke from the Supreme Court's bench of Justices B. N. Agarwal and A. K. Mathur on October 24, 2005. The court had asked the government to “throw out” illegal occupants from the government's bungalows while hearing a case related to overstaying by several politicians on government premises in violation of rules and regulations. Buta Singh vacated the 9 Lodhi Estate house and formally handed it over to authorities. Justice Agarwal had observed: “Buta Singh is Governor of Bihar. What is he doing here? How can he be occupying a house here. Throw him out.” 

The government had submitted two lists with 465 names of VIP defaulters to the Court. The first list included those who were staying illegally and the other gave names of dignitaries who were living in houses bigger than their entitlement. 

Buta Singh got singled out as his name figured on top of the list which was submitted to the Court. The controversial Governor was facing criticism from the Opposition parties over his recommendation to dissolve the hung Bihar Assembly. Notably, Prime Minister had expressed displeasure in public about Bihar Governor’s role. 

Notably, the government was not able to file its detailed affidavit on the issue of making the offence of trespassing under Section 441 of the IPC cognisable and non-bailable to give more teeth to the government agency in dealing with the problem. Justice Agarwal headed bench had earlier asked the central and state governments to make their stand clear on making Section 441 a cognisable and non-bailable offence – as Orissa and Uttar Pradesh have done.

In July 2023, Bihar government imposed penalties on several MLAs, who held ministerial berths for “overstaying” at bungalows meant for ministers, even after allotment of houses to them as legislators. 

Significantly, Parliament has cleared a legislation—Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Act, 2019 has been enacted for speedy eviction of unauthorised occupants of government accommodation. It came into effect from September 16, 2019. The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Rules, 2019 were notified on September 25, 2019. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has been allocated the task of its implementation of this law under the First Schedule of the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 as amended up to January 5, 2022. 

Justice Agarwal retired in October 2009 after a nine-year tenure. Fourteen years after his rebuke, this law was enacted to deal with the eviction of unauthorised occupants. It is not clear as to whether this law has been effective on the ground. There is a need for a White Paper on the implementation of this law to ascertain whether it is being implemented without discrimination based on party affiliations.

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