5 Aug 2008, 1202 hrs IST,TNN
NEW DELHI: "In India, even God cannot help. He will be a silent spectator as He will also feel helpless" — this observation came from the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it expressed its frustration over the reluctance of the Centre and state governments to take tough measures against bureaucrats and others unauthorisedly overstaying in government accommodation.
The remark indicated what the apex court must be feeling after failing to goad the governments to amend laws to treat squatting in government premises as criminal trespass of public property, an offence which may attract arrests.
The bench of Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi was reacting to the government's decision, conveyed by additional solicitor general Amarendra Saran, not to amend Section 441 of the Indian Penal Code to make overstaying in official bungalows an offence.
Following the refusal of the Centre and states to make the squatters pay, the dejected court dropped its advocacy for a stronger law. "In our view, the stand of the Centre and the states is condemnable in view of the galloping trend of unauthorised occupation of official accommodation, which neither the Centre nor the states are in a position to contain," it said.
Amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar, however, exhorted the court not to drop the ante, saying there should be some accountability fixed on delinquent bureaucrats as government accommodation were national assets which could not be squandered away.
Following the refusal of the Centre and states to make the squatters pay, the SC court dropped its advocacy for a stronger law. The bench comprising Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi pointed out that a law, however tough, could never be implemented if the government was not keen on it.
"The whole government machinery is corrupt. We may lay down the law, but who will implement it? It has to be done by the clerks. The secretaries and joint secretaries have no guts to go against the clerks. The law is there, the statute is there, but the governments have become non-functional," it said. The court slammed the government for being obstinate towards implementation of laws. Because of this, those in the corridors of power were able to continue occupying government accommodation unauthorisedly without fear, it said.
The SC, frustrated by the determination of politicians and bureaucrats to stay put in subsidised accommodation beyond their eligibility, had proposed amendment last year, saying that only "third degree method" would work with the heedless and well-connected lot.
If it had thought that its tough posture would work with regimes indulgent of powerful squatters, it was to be disappointed. Most of the states did not respond to suggestion. Those who did, toed Centre's line. There were two exceptions though — Orissa and UP — which have tough laws in place making squatting in government bungalows a non-bailable offence.