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On Wednesday, the Bombay High Court took suo motu cognizance on the standstill that has befallen upon the Maharashtra government's project of publishing Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's literature.
Taking note of a news item published in Marathi daily Loksatta dated November 24, 2021 about the state of the project, a Bench of Justice PB Varale and Justice SM Modak took up the matter for consideration as a public interest litigation, stating that, "The publication is absolutely necessary and desirable for present and future generation. It is useful to members of legal fraternity as well as to general members. So we feel that there is need for this Court to look into the issue of halting of project and reason therefor."
The Maharashtra government had launched the scheme during the previous Devendra Fadnavis government, intending to put out 9 lakh copies of Ambedkar’s entire work, titled, The Writings and Speeches of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The Court noted with respect to the Scheme that the Loksatta had reported that barely 33,000 copies had been printed in past 4 years, and that the paper for printing the books had been acquired at a cost of Rs 5.45 crores but a vast majority of the stock was lying unutilized in storage.
With various ambitious schemes of governments coming to a standstill every now and then, the question that arose in our mind was regarding the presence or absence of the necessity, for the Bombay High Court to intervene in the matter.
To generate discourse on the issue, we reached out to several members of the legal fraternity for their views on this move by the Hon’ble High Court.
Was it necessary for the Court to intervene in this particular matter and should the judiciary intervene in such cases at all?
Let's see what the vibrant Bar has to say!
Advocate Sai Deepak Iyer J thinks that Courts have more pressing issues to attend to instead of taking up such suo moto issues. He says,
“To be honest, I think Courts have more pressing issues to attend to instead of taking up such issues suo motu. If they wish to give effect to the intent of the framers of the Constitution, perhaps clearing pendency would be a better way of furthering that intent.”
On the other hand, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court, Vikram Hegde felt that, "The disseminations of Dr. Ambedkar are very important and the reported action of the government in neglecting it for four years, not distributing even the copies that were printed, and not utilizing the printing paper purchased, are all shocking.”
However, Hegde opined that, “It would have been better if the High Court had taken it up at the behest of a party who could have brought forward the government apathy in the matter and the exact impact on the public and researchers in a proper manner, rather than take it up as a suo moto PIL.”
Also standing by the stand of the High Court, Senior Advocate Vivek Sood said that, "...the Bombay High Court has correctly taken notice of a significant issue that can be said to be covered as part of freedom of speech and expression of citizens. The right to knowledge is part of free speech. Moreover, B.R. Ambedkar is an important personality being one of the founding fathers of our Constitution. Hence, literature surrounding Ambedkar must continue to be published and the State must be directed not to render this significant piece of history into oblivion.”
Going on to bracket the state of the Scheme as a constitutional issue, Sood opined that "a huge pendency of cases doesn’t mean the High Courts should stop taking up important constitutional issues."
As per him pendency has to be tackled separately with more judges, and efficiency in the administration of justice.
Taking a novel view on the matter Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose said that, "...Baba Saheb’s memory is better served by spending the time expended on such cases in expediting the bail cases of prisoners of conscience, such as Father Stan and Sudha.”
On the other end of the spectrum was the view by Advocate on Record Amit Pai, who said, "This is certainly judicial overreach."
Pai further said that, he believes that the enlarged suo motu jurisdiction was actually meant for basic human rights of the downtrodden or those who couldn’t otherwise go to court.
“Isn’t this a political issue? Or is it a basic human right issue?” Pai questioned.
Senior Advocate Devdatt Kamat on the other hand said that, “I see nothing wrong if the High Court wants to look at the matter more closely. If there is a budgetary allocation by the government and the government is unable to do the work, the High Court cannot be said to be indulging in judicial overreach.”
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