Govt accommodation meant for serving officials, not retirees as benevolence: SC12 August 2021
New Delhi: Government accommodation is meant for serving officials and not retirees as a 'benevolence' and distribution of largesse, the Supreme Court has said while setting aside an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court allowing a retired public servant to retain such premises. Right to shelter does not mean right to government accommodation, the apex court said, observing that direction to allow a retired public servant to retain such premises for an indefinite period is distribution of state largesse without any policy. While allowing the appeal filed by the Centre, a bench of justices Hemant Gupta and A S Bopanna set aside the high court order and directed the retired Intelligence Bureau officer, a Kashmiri migrant, to hand over vacant physical possession of the premises on or before October 31, 2021. The bench also directed the Centre to submit a report of action taken against retired public servants, who are in government accommodation post their retirement by virtue of orders of the high courts, by November 15, 2021. The officer, who was transferred to Faridabad where he was allotted a government accommodation, had attained the age of superannuation from service on October 31, 2006. 'The right to shelter does not mean right to government accommodation. The government accommodation is meant for serving officers and officials and not to the retirees as a benevolence and distribution of largesse,' the bench said in its judgement passed last week. The top court was hearing a plea against the July 2011 order of a division bench of the high court which had dismissed a petition against its single judge order. The single judge had said it was not possible for the retired officer to return to his own state due to which the order of eviction shall be kept in abeyance. The high court had also said the authorities were at liberty to provide alternative accommodation to him on nominal licence fee in Faridabad. The officer had earlier given representation to the concerned authority to allow him to retain the government accommodation and he was allowed to retain the house for another one year. Later, he submitted another representation in June 2007 to allow him to retain the house allotted to him on a nominal licence fee till the circumstances prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir improve and the government makes it possible for him to return to his native place. He was served with a notice under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupant) Act, 1971 and later, an order for eviction was passed but it was stayed by a district court in Delhi. When an objection was raised about territorial jurisdiction of Delhi court, he withdrew his appeal and filed it in Faridabad court which dismissed it in August 2009. Later, the matter reached the high court. In its verdict, the apex court referred to several judgements delivered earlier and said it was held that government accommodation is only meant for in-service officers and not for the retirees or those who have demitted office. 'The compassion howsoever genuine does not give a right to a retired person from continuing to occupy a government accommodation,' it said. It noted that according to a policy framed by the government, a displaced person is to be lodged in a transit accommodation and if it is not available, then cash compensation is to be provided. 'There is no policy of the central government or the state government to provide accommodation to displaced persons on account of terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,' it said. 'The hardship faced by them does not lead to a corresponding duty of the state to provide them alternative government accommodation.' It noted that a section of society, more so retired public servants who have earned pension and drawn retirement benefits, cannot be said to be in such condition where the government should provide government accommodation for an unlimited period. 'A section of the migrants cannot be treated as preferential citizens to give them the right to shelter at the cost of millions of other citizens who do not have a roof over their heads,' it said. The bench said right of shelter to a displaced person is satisfied when accommodation had been provided in the transit accommodation. The bench said in terms of the policy, which was considered in an earlier verdict of the apex court, Kashmiri migrants are entitled to transit accommodation and if transit accommodation could not be provided then money for residence and expenses. It said the retired officer in the matter and such persons are not from the poorest section of migrants and have worked in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. 'To say that they are enforcing their right to shelter only till such time the conditions are conducive for their safe return is wholly illusory. No one is sure that at what point of time the condition will be conducive to the satisfaction of the migrants. Such benevolence and preferential right to section of the citizens is unfair to the serving officers,' it said. It set aside the high court's order and restored the writ petition challenging the order under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupant) Act, 1971.