The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday directed three former chief ministers – Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Vijay Bahuguna and Bhuvan Chand Khanduri – to file their response in a contempt petition case within two weeks.
The contempt petition was filed in August regarding non-compliance of the court’s earlier order regarding the non-payment of pending dues. The petitioner is Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), a Dehradun-based NGO.
Rakesh Thapliyal, counsel of Nishank, and Vikas Bahuguna, counsel of Vijay Bahuguna and Khanduri, said the court has given them two weeks to file their response in the matter.
Kartikey Hari Gupta, counsel of the petitioner, said as the former CMs didn’t comply with the HC directions. RLEK filed the contempt petition against the three and the chief secretary, following which the court issued show-cause notices to them.
“Chief secretary Om Prakash has filed his response affidavit in the court in which he has stated that the state government has filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court in the case, hence the contempt petition may be deferred. The counsels for the three CMs also appeared and sought time to file A response. The court has given two weeks to them to file their response and ordered that the matter be posted immediately after two weeks for further hearing,” he said.
On May 3, 2019, the HC had directed the ex-CMs to pay the market rent amounting to Rs 2.8 crore for the buildings occupied by them within six months. It had also directed that the amount payable towards amenities such as electricity, water, petrol, oil and lubricants be recalculated within four months and the same be intimated to the ex-CMs. The court asked the ex-CMs to pay the amount to the state government within six months.
The HC had delivered the order on May 3 after hearing the PIL filed by RLEK. The PIL challenged free residence, car, security and other perks to the former CMs in 2010.
On June 9, the HC declared several provisions of the Uttarakhand Former Chief Minister Facility (Residential and other facilities) Act 2019 as ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority), paving way for the recovery of pending dues from the former CMs at the market rate.
In January this year, RLEK filed a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of the Act passed by the state government in the winter session of the assembly in December last year. The state government, on January 15, issued a gazette notification regarding the implementation of the Uttarakhand Former Chief Minister Facility (Residential and other facilities) Act 2019, which was passed by the assembly in December and assented to by the governor on January 13.
According to the notification, the appropriate rent of the government residences allotted to the ex-CMs would be recovered from the allottees from the date of the allotment. However, the notification added, the facilities provided to the ex-CMs by the state government, such vehicle along with driver, maintenance of vehicles, personal assistant/officer on special duty/public relation officer, fourth class employee, watchman, gardener, telephone attendant and security guard, would be free of cost.