‘Are public servants cut above public?’
ABRAHAM THOMAS IN THE PIONEER
Sixty years after India became a Republic, the Supreme Court posed a question on Friday on whether public servants should be entitled to red beacons, a stream of security personnel and a fleet of cars as a matter of right.Wondering what the term “public servant” actually meant, a Bench of Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhyay gave liberty to convert a matter challenging grant of Z-plus security to a Congress MLA from Uttar Pradesh into a PIL to examine whether there should be norms or guidelines governing grant of security to VIPs and citizens in general, to prevent it being misused.
The case before the court was an appeal filed by one Abhay Singh through advocate CD Singh challenging grant of high security to one Pramod Tewari, MLA from Pratapgarh. The security was provided to him in 1985 for inviting wrath of the Sikh militants over an objectionable statement made by him. The Centre placed him in its prime security zone without reviewing the threat perception for decades together. Close to 50 security personnel were posted with him along with a fleet of cars, each attached with beacon light, causing inconvenience and terror among local residents.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who questioned the entitlement of Tewari to secure Z-plus security, forced the Court to think on the larger issue involved. Since India became a Republic in January 1950, “any symbol of authority or superiority conferred by the Government or allowed by the government would fall foul of such a principle of egalitarianism.” Moreover, Article 18 abolished all titles and granting security as a matter of entitlement to public servants vitiated the very concept of the term defined under Article 309, Salve added. Conscious of the abuse of the security apparatus, the bench said, “This is a very serious issue. We will convert it into a PIL.”
What caught the imagination of the court was Salve’s insistence to remove such symbols that made public servants a crest above common man. Giving a historical context to the issue under debate, Salve maintained that public servants during British rule were foreign citizens who owed allegiance to the Crown and thus were awarded these symbols.
But it ceased after India gave itself a Constitution. Unfortunately, he remarked, “It is now a common practice amongst those who hold public office or are connected with political parties and organisations to seek security.” The Bench agreed, “public servants are actually servants of the public,” giving permission to Salve to file a fresh petition stressing this point.
The matter would be heard on October 14.
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