Today, the Supreme Court stayed the contempt of court notice sent by the Uttarakhand High Court to Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari for not paying the market rent for a government bungalow allocated to him when he was Chief Minister of the State.
The Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman, KM Joseph and Krishna Murari issued notice to the State of Uttarakhand and tagged the petition with a pending plea challenging the basis at which market rent rates were ascertained by the High Court.
The apex court had issued notice in these pleas and stayed the contempt proceedings pending before the High Court. In his plea filed through Advocate AK Prasad, Koshiyari has stated that since he is the sitting Governor of Maharashtra, the bar under Article 361 of the Constitution of India cannot be ignored while issuing notice in a plea seeking contempt action against him.
Article 361 affords protection to the President of India and the Governors of states against legal action before courts. The Act had been brought about to undo the effect of the May 2019 judgment passed by the High Court whereby the ex-Chief Ministers were asked to vacate bungalows that they continued to occupy free of cost despite their terms having come to an end.
At the time, the Court had also directed that the former Chief Ministers pay market rent for the term of their illegal occupation over a 19-year period. A review petition filed against the verdict was dismissed by the High Court on August 7, 2019.
As per the High Court order, Koshiyari owed Rs. 47.5 lakh in dues after calculation of market value of the residential premises he had occupied when he was Chief Minister. In his SLP before the Supreme Court, Governor has contended that he was never a part of the process to determine market rent of the residential premises allotted to him.
It is further contended that Koshiyari was in occupation of the residential premises under an order issued by a lawful authority under a rule, which was not in dispute at the time of allotment. Further, he had vacated the same as soon as he was required by law to do so.