Intolerance and the search for identity: A history of communal tensions in Bangladesh - The Daily Guardian
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Intolerance and the search for identity: A history of communal tensions in Bangladesh

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“For our language many have died Drawn from the arms of our mother But down the road smeared with their blood I hope freedom will come to this land The simple language of a simple people Will meet the demands of this our land”

-Sufia Kamal

The world today has been gifted with the growing sensitization towards religious pluralism that situates itself between the two corridors of religious tolerance and the identification of minority rights. The belief system of one religion is to be accommodated within the structures of a majoritarian religion in order to bring harmony and peace to a country. There are however greater complexities as the dimensions of the political narratives also pose a serious threat sometimes to a country that is polarized by religious hypertrophy.

Bangladesh is celebrating its 50th year of liberation from Pakistani oppression this year. Though very young, this South Asian country has been able to establish itself as a liberal democratic nation. Recognition of Bangladesh as a developing nation from being underdeveloped endorses its effort to make it a functioning democracy in the map of South Asia. It has displayed remarkable progress in public health, education, women empowerment, public administration, overall human development index among other things. However, contrarily, its policies towards securing free religious practice for its citizens are under careful watch by the international communities. Violence against religious minorities is tarnishing the efforts of Bangladeshi liberal leadership for more than the last three decades, resulting in a sharp decline in the religious minority population from 30% in the year 1947 to 9% now. 

Bangladesh, as it is known today, was known as East Bengal during British Rule, then East Pakistan under the Pakistani Regime from 1947 till 1971. Irrespective of two major religious communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims, the population is known as Bengalee primarily based on their culture and linguistic equivalences. Undivided Bengal that encapsulates the area consisting of West Bengal and Bangladesh now has a long history of a tolerant progressive human society. There is hardly any record of religious conflicts between these two communities till the middle of the twentieth century when the demand for a separate nation on the religious line began to gain momentum. At the end of the British rule, the two major religious communities i.e. Hindus and Muslims failed to retain the tolerant fabric of Bengali society based on religious harmony for centuries.

The Constitution of Bangladesh was adopted on 4th November 1972 and came to effect on 16th December 1972. Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to specifically use secularism in its constitution followed by India in 42nd amendment Act in 1976. A decisive change was to ban religious-based political part, Jamaat-e-Islami that opposed Bangladesh’s independence and faced allegations of involvement in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide that was initiated by Pakistani military on all Bengali’s of East Bengal. The Jamaat-e-Islami supported the Pakistani Army During the Awami League’s rule, the Opposition Leader and leftwing cleric Maulana Bhashani talked about a “Muslim Bengal” as opposed to the League’s secular Bengali platform.

The first religious clash between Hindus and Muslims took place in Calcutta, the capital city of undivided Bengal, in 1946 (Aug 16 -Aug 19), resulting in an estimated loss of 10,000 lives of both communities, also known as the Great Calcutta Killing. This is the beginning of a dark chapter of communal disharmony. This was followed by the Noakhali Riots of 1946 (November- December) where the death toll touched around 5000.

In the year 1947, Pakistan was carved out of India as a separate country with a Muslim major population.  East Bengal became East Pakistan as it was in the eastern part of Pakistan. Religious intolerance has however grown in Bangladesh over these four decades and the nation has further away from the harmonious grounds of anti-fundamentalism that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had gifted to the country.

Some of the major incidents of violence against Hindus are Dhaka Riots of 1948, Nacholi Massacre (Rajshahi District), Dhaka Riots, Barisal Riots, Chittagong Riots, Rajshahi Riots -1962, East Pakistan Riot- 1964. Then in the year 1971 during the war of independence against the Pakistani Army, an estimated 3 million people were killed, 200000 women were raped and the majority of these casualties were Hindus.

On the 16th December 1971, 93000 Pakistani Army Surrenders to the Joint forces of Indian Army and Bangladesh Mukti Bahini and Bangladesh becomes an independent nation in south Asia

The country entered the comity of nations under Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, also known as the Bongobondhu or the friend of the Nation. The religious intolerance was given away and there was a greater attempt at protecting the interests of the religious minorities with his Awami League that took up the leadership in the country. But there was a decline in the subjective efforts with the murder of Bangabandhu on the 15th August, 1975, leading to a coup by radical army officers that over the years have given rise to further coup and counter coups, resulting in transfer of power to Major Ziaur Rehman in 1977.

The issue largely resulted from the fact that Ziaur Rehman uplifted the ban on the religious based political party and as a result of such an attempt the Constitution incorporated ideas of social justice from Islamic religious order, removing the tenets of secularism from the Constitution- Bismillahir Ram Rahim or absolute trust and faith in the almighty Allah shall be basis of all actions. Islam has thus been mentioned at least twice in this Constitution.

From 1975 till 1988, there were no such noticeable large scale attacks on Hindus, but it continued at local levels across the country which failed to get attention of the international communities. In 1988 , the then President of Bangladesh , Hussain Mohammad Ershad declared Islam as the National Religion of Bangladesh, also called the State Religion. From 1988 the other two religious groups the Buddhist and the Christian also began to be the target of the majority Muslim communities including Hindus. Though the attacks are being carried out in a routinely fashion , some of the major incidents of atrocities which attracted international attention  are described here, in 1989 ,an estimated 400 Hindu temples were destroyed across Bangladesh  in reaction to the laying of foundation stone for Ram Temple in the close vicinity of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. In 1991 attacks were carried out in Dhaka, Chittagang, Jessore, Narail, Gaibandha, Mymensingh, Sunamganj and Sylhet. In 1992, at the aftermath of Demolition of Babri Mosque in India, 11 temples were destroyed among many killings, rapes  and destruction of property of the Hindus.

Last few years the attacks increased many folds, according to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a human rights body in Bangladesh, from September 2013 till October 2021, the total number of attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh were 3710, and from 1993 till 2006 the number was 22 . This increasing act of atrocities is contributing to the gradual decline of a religious minority population in Bangladesh, it was 31% in 1947 and now it stands a meager 9%. According to Dr Abul Barkat, Professor of Dhaka University, 11.3 million Hindus fled Bangladesh since 1947.

Communalism is a pervasive phenomenon in the public life of Bangladesh and communal riots have the ugliest expression. This is very similar to the condition in India. Communal riots have two faces – violence and confrontation. Every reason for communal riot appears to be superficial and trivial; though deep within political reasons are rooted. Communal riots in East Bengal are rarely due to religious animosity but that is taken advantage of by the politicians to meet their political and economic interest.

Between January 1972 and January 1975, Bangladesh enjoyed a parliamentary government but then it was a military dictatorship. In 1977, secularism was removed by a Martial law directed during the military dictatorship of Ziaur Rahman. The 5th amendment to the constitution in 1979, that had allowed religious based politics and legitimized the post -1975 regimes after a coup toppled the country’s post-independence government. In 1988, the Parliament of Bangladesh declared Islam as the state religion during the presidency of Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League (AL) governments retained Islam as the state religion. At the end of BNP’s 2001-2006 term, the Awami League questioned the appointment of the new Chief Advisor. Awami supporter led protests and violence popularly known as logi boitha movement , which resulted in 40 deaths and 100s(hundreds) of injuries in the first month .On that day Awami League activists severely beat and killed 3 activists of Jamat e Islami in Paltan in front of the TV camera. On 11th January 2007, Chief Advisor Iajuddin Ahmed announced a state of Emergency in Bangladesh. On 12th January 2007, with military backing, the former Bangladesh Bank Governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, who had worked for the World Bank was now sworn in as the Chief Advisor.

Hefajat-e-Islam (HeI) claims it is apolitical, as they do not participate in electoral politics, but they are at the forefront of accumulating religious capital and have emerged as important players in Bangladeshi politics. Hefajat-e-Islam, which literally means ‘protector of Islam’, was established in 2010 as a reaction to the Draft National Women’s Development Policy Bill, proposed by the military-backed caretaker government in 2008.

In 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ruled that the removal of secularism in 1977 was illegal because it was done by an unconstitutional martial law regime. The principle of secularism now co-exists with the state religion. The apex court division on Feb 2nd again this year had revised and declared illegal the 5th amendment. In 2011 finally this Women’s Bill was supported.

In 2011, HeI proved its street power by its student march and 13 charter petitions to the government. This led to a violent bloodshed of the students who had partaken. The Government realized their power in the Shah Bagh protests. In recent times, the extreme street power of these parties is forcing the government to dunk their secular image next into a more Islamic State.

This coming together of AL and HeI though was a crucial factor that helped in the AL’s 2014 and 2018 electoral victories. The death of the supremo, Shafi, has brought the power tussle for succession between Anas Madani, Shafi’s son, and Junaid Babunagori, out in the open. In 2019, the rivalry between senior Nayeb–e–Ameer, Mohibullah Babunagari, and Anas Madani, came to the fore.

After the death of Allama Shah Ahmed Shafi, the Amir of HeI on September 18, 2020, the takeover of the group by radical leaders like Junaid Babunagori, who are opposed to the government, reflects the limitation of the latter’s appeasement policy(Meaning is not clear). While the Ulemas may not be electorally successful, their street power and ideological commitment to their interpretation of religion are swiftly pressing the secularism.

Bangladesh State Minister for Information Murad Hussain has stated that Bangladesh is(has) secular constitution proposed by the Father of the nation, Mujibur Rahman. The judgment came in response to why compelling women to wear religious attire should not be declared illegal. In August this year it was reported that a women’s college in northwestern Natore issued a directive prohibiting students from entering the campus without burqas, also barred them from sport and cultural activities. The high court found the college guilty based on the fact that the 5th amendment is null and void and Bangladesh is a secular nation.

 From October 13th to 19th, the riots in Bangladesh defeated the entire fabric of the secularism that the Constitution of Bangladesh abides by. The reports of casualties and deaths, including demolishing of around 80 temples spanning across regions like Cumilla, Chandpur, Noakhali, Chattogram, Bandarban, Cox’s Bazar, Narsingdi and Gazipur only shows that there needs to be one social disassociation to bring around the religious tensions in the region. What is even strange is that the Charter of Medina based on which the Constitution of Bangladesh pulls its resources hardly justifies the secular stand stated in other parts of the Constitution of Bangladesh. Places like Rangpur saw the burning down of around two dozen of hindu houses over a protesting post by a Hindu man over the ongoing conditions of the minorities and even the United Nations Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo condemned the attacks over Twitter. It is only to be seen how the Bangladesh administration deals with the person Iqbal Hossain, identified as the one who placed the Holy Quran in the feet of the Goddess Durga in the Pandal that sparked the entire saga of violence in Bangladesh.

However the gagging of the bloggers, leaders and protestors who are against the heinous communal riots is another side to the acting administration and their public policy and places the citizens in a state of confusion as to the real mode of action in such a state of affairs. The external response from other countries is negligible as India promised no intrusion to settle internal disputes and China is in the grip of declaring another lockdown. This tension of mildness and appeasement since 1971 has stayed always. If this continues to operate, the secular fabric of the Bengalees in the Eastern Bengal shall be washed out and there will be no room for the minorities to live with a dignified standing and the Awami League’s role in propagation of the same shall only be seen as a discomfort in the topography of a state that has seen a lot of divisive politics in the last few years with immense vote rigging for winning the seats of power. The tribals, also minorities, have also faced immense oppressions specially in the militarized hill tracts of the Chittagong. It can only be hoped that the citizens live up to the tenets of their Constitution, where in Article 11, it is mentioned that,” the Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed”.

Also Article 32 and 39 mentions the Right to Life and Personal Liberty and The Right to Freedom of thought conscience and speech ( special reference to Digital Security Act, 2018 of Bangladesh) and these must be invoked and protected at all costs in order to quash the violence by taking strict actions against perpetrators without any bias towards religion, creed and sect.

Hefajat-e-Islam (HeI) claims it is apolitical, as they do not participate in electoral politics, but they are at the forefront of accumulating religious capital and have emerged as important players in Bangladeshi politics. Hefajat-e-Islam, which literally means ‘protector of Islam’, was established in 2010 as a reaction to the Draft National Women’s Development Policy Bill, proposed by the military-backed caretaker government in 2008.

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‘FAILURE TO PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF DECEASED’S INCOME DOES NOT JUSTIFY ADOPTION OF LOWEST TIER OF MINIMUM WAGE IN MOTOR ACCIDENT’

The bench comprising of Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua observed while deciding the appeal preferred by an insurance company against award of Rs 15,85,000 compensation to the bereaved mother by the Claims Tribunal.

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The Himachal Pradesh High Court in the case United India Insurance Company Ltd v. Smt. Sumna Devi recently observed that merely because the claimants were unable to produce documentary evidence to show the monthly income of the deceased and the same should not justify for adoption of lowest tier of minimum wage while computing the income.

The bench comprising of Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua observed while deciding the appeal preferred by an insurance company against award of Rs. 15,85,000/- compensation to the bereaved mother by the Claims Tribunal.

It was observed that the Tribunal had assessed deceased’s monthly income as 10,000/- whereas the Appellant argued that in absence of any documentary evidence to show the deceased’s income and as per the minimum wage rate, i.e., Rs. 7,000- per month, the award must be calculated.

Further, the deceased’s mother informed the Court that her son was earning Rs. 10,000/- per month only from agricultural pursuits. It was submitted by her that he had completed two-year NCVT course in Mechanic (Motor Vehicle) Trade and would have definitely earned much more than Rs. 10,000/- per month, had he lived.

It was noted by the court that where the deceased had an NCVT CTS course diploma in Mechanic (Motor Vehicle) Trade from a Government Industrial Training Institute and was also carrying out agricultural works, Rs. 10,000/- per month has been correctly assessed as his income which he would have earned on attaining the age of 25 years.

The court placed reliance on Chandra alias Chanda alias Chandra Ram & Anr. vs. Mukesh Kumar Yadav & Ors., wherein it was held that in absence of salary certificate the minimum wage notification can be a yardstick but at the same time cannot be an absolute one for fixing the income of the deceased. Thus, in absence of documentary evidence on record some amount of guesswork is required to be done. But at the same time the guesswork for assessing the deceased income should not be totally detached from reality.

Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition.

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VIOLATION OF RETRENCHMENT PROCEDURE U/S 25F & 25G OF INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES ACT WARRANTS REINSTATEMENT, NOT MERE COMPENSATION: GUJARAT HIGH COURT

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The Gujarat High Court in the case Rameshbhai Bhathibhai Pagi v/s Deputy Executive Engineer observed and has reiterated that once a Labour Court comes to the conclusion that Sections 25F, G and H of the Industrial Disputes Act have been violated and reinstatement of workman ought to follow.

The bench comprising of Justice Biren Vaishnav observed while hearing several petitions challenging the Labour Court’s order wherein compensation of Rs. 72,000 was awarded to each of the workmen-Petitioner rather than reinstatement with back wages.

It was submitted by the petitioner that their services were put to an end in August 2010 without following the procedure and without awarding compensation. It was pleaded by them that there was a clear violation of Sections 25(G) and (H).

However, the court stated that the Labour Courts had found the termination bad for each of the petitioners. While drawing an adverse inference against the Respondents, it has been awarded by the Labour Court the compensation which was meagre in the eyes of the petitioner, even as work was available. The Court observed that the Reliance was placed on Kalamuddin M. Ansari vs. Government of India, wherein similar facts and circumstances, the High Court ordered reinstatement of employees with continuity of service and had set aside the order of compensation.

The decision of the Labour Court was supported by the AGPs on the ground that there was a delay in raising the dispute. Further, the work had been outsourced at the canal. Therefore, the reinstatement was not possible.

The bench of Justice Vaishnav noted that the Labour Court had clearly concluded that there was a violation of sections 25(F), (G) and (H) of the ID Act. The only question raised was weather the Labour Court should have fallen short of awarding reinstatement with or without backwages.

In the present case, reference was made to Gauri Shanker vs. State of Rajasthan, wherein order of Labour Court had been modified by the Supreme Court of granting compensation in lieu of reinstatement. Further, Justice Vaishnav recalled the following observations of the Top Court:

The Division bench and the learned Single Judge under their supervisory jurisdiction should not have modified the award by awarding compensation in lieu of reinstatement which is contrary to the well settled principles of law laid down by this Court, in catena of cases.

Keeping in view the fact and the precedents that compensation would be detrimental to the Petitioners who had worked for more than 20 years. The order of the Labour Court was modified by the High Court of granting lump-sum compensation and ordered the employer to reinstate the workmen in service with continuity of service.

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CENTRE NOTIFIES APPOINTMENT OF ELEVEN ADDITIONAL JUDGES IN PUNJAB & HARYANA HC

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On Sunday, the Central Government notified the appointment of 11 advocates as Additional Judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The Advocates appointed as additional judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court are namely:

1. Nidhi Gupta,

2. Sanjay Vashisth,

3. Tribhuvan Dahiya,

4. Namit Kumar,

5. Harkesh Manuja,

6. Aman Chaudhary,

7. Naresh Singh,

8. Harsh Bunger,

9. Jagmohan Bansal,

10. Shri Deepak Manchanda,

11. Alok Jain

The present appointment will take the actual strength of the High Court to 57 judges against a sanctioned strength of 85.

The judges have been appointed for a period of two years with effect from the date they assume charge of their respective offices, an official notification read.

In its meeting held on July 25, 2022, the Supreme Court Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had recommended the names of these 11 advocates for elevation as Additional Judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

In 2021, the appointment tally in High Courts was 120 in addition to 9 appointments in the Supreme Court. However, the entire appointment process in higher judiciary has been put on a fast track.

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KERALA HC: BAIL GRANTED TO A DOCTOR ACCUSED OF POSTING DEFAMATORY ARTICLES AGAINST LAKSHADWEEP ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS

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The Kerala High Court in the case Dr K P Hamsakoya vs Union Territory of Lakshadweep observed and granted an anticipatory bail to a senior doctor who has been accused of posting on facebook defamatory articles against officers of the Administration of Lakshadweep.

The bench comprising of Justice Viju Abraham observed and was essentially dealing with the pre-arrest bail plea of Dr. K P Hamsakoya, who is one of the senior-most doctors serving the Lakshadweep Administration and that presently, he is under suspension.

The Court observed that Dr. Hamsakoya has been accused of posting defamatory articles on Facebook against officers of the Administration of Lakshadweep, thus causing a negative effect amongst the public against the Administration. He has been booked under Sections 505 (1) (b), 505 (2) and 500 of the IPC and Section 66 (A) (b) of the Information Technology Act.

Before the Court, the Counsels Ajit G Anjarlekar, G.P.Shinod, Govind Padmanaabhan, and Atul Mathews appearing argued that he has been falsely implicated in the case and has been booked under the offence punishable under Section 66 (A) (b) of the IT Act (a provision which has been struck down in its entirety by the Apex Court).

It was contended by the court that the offences under Section 500 IPC cannot be registered without a complaint being filed by a person who has been defamed.

The Court while considering the facts and circumstances of the case and the nature of the allegations, the pre-arrest bail was granted by the court to the petitioner and the court dismissed his plea with the following directions:

On August 29, 2022, the petitioner shall surrender before the investigating officer and shall co-operate with the investigation.

The court stated that in the event of the petitioner, he shall be produced before the jurisdictional Magistrate and shall be released on bail on his executing a bond for Rs.50,000/- with two solvent sureties each for the like sum as per the satisfaction of the jurisdictional Court.

It was stated by the court that if any of the aforesaid conditions are violated, the Investigating Officer of Minicoy Police Station, Union Territory of Lakshadweep has been given the liberty to file an application for cancellation of bail before the jurisdictional court.

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GUJARAT HC GRANTS RELIEF TO DIPLOMA HOLDERS: STUDENTS CAN’T BE FAULTED FOR PHARMACY COUNCIL’S FAILURE TO APPROVE MEDICAL STORES FOR IMPARTING TRAINING.

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The Gujarat High Court in the case Oza Nikun Dashrathbhai v/s State Of Gujarat observed and has come to the rescue of D.Pharm students who were denied registration as ‘Pharmacist’ by the State Pharmacy Council on the ground that they have not undertaken training from medical stores approved the Pharmacy Practice Regulations, 2015.

The Single bench comprising of Justice AS Supehia observed and noted that the Pharmacy Council of India has not approved any medical store under the Regulation for the purpose of imparting practical training of Diploma to the students in Pharmacy Course like the present petitioners.

Court Observations:

It was observed that the petitioners cannot be faulted for the action of the respondent authorities in not approving the medical stores under regulation 4.4 of the Regulation of 2015 and hence, no option was there to the petitioner to take their training from the respective medical stores.

It was claimed by the petitioner’s student that the State Council was not registering them as Pharmacists despite having undertaken the necessary training of 500 hours for three months from the respective medical stores.

Further, it was observed that the State had admitted that all documents of the Petitioners were genuine, however, the registration was denied solely for the aforesaid reason. Further, one of the governmental circulars had clarified that the process for granting approval of Chemist/ Pharmacy and Druggist will be notified through the online mode. But the same was targeted only at “prospective students” .

It was noted by the High Court that in order to avoid hardship to current students, who had already undergone or undergoing the D.Pharm course while taking the practical training under the Pharmacy, Chemist and Druggist licensed under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, as per precedence students will be considered for the registration, provided the students had undergone the D.Pharm course in an institution approved under PCI under section 12 of the Act.

Accordingly, the High Court directed the State Council to register the Petitioners as Pharmacists within three months.

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UTTARAKHAND HC SAYS UTTARKASHI’S BAN ON “MEAT SHOPS” WITHIN 500 METRES OF “RIVER GANGA” IN LINE WITH CONSTITUTIONAL SCHEME

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It is interesting to note that while fully, firmly and finally very rightly and commendably upholding the ban that was imposed on meat shops that was enacted by the Zila Panchayat of Uttarkashi District, the Uttarakhand High Court in an extremely remarkable, robust, refreshing and rational judgment titled Naved Qureshi vs State of Uttarakhand & Ors in Writ Petition (MS) No. 2073 of 2016 that was pronounced recently on July 20, 2022 has expressed its consonance with a bye-law of Zila Panchayat, Uttarkashi to the effect that no shop for butchering animals and selling meat within 500m from the bank of river Ganga shall be permitted. It must be noticed here that the Single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Mr Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra said quite clearly that keeping in view the “special status” of Uttarakhand and the river Ganga that emerges from District Uttarkashi and the sanctity attached with the river Ganga by majority of population of Uttarakhand, the decision taken by the Zila Panchayat by making the said bye-laws is in line with the scheme of Constitution of India, as envisaged in Part IX. It very rightly ruled that the District Magistrate had not committed any error in not issuing a no objection certificate to the petitioner to run a mutton shop, at a premises situated at 105 metres distance from the bank of Ganga.

At the outset, this extremely laudable, learned, landmark and latest judgment authored by a Single Judge Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra sets the ball rolling by first and foremost putting forth lucidly in para 1 that, “By filing this writ petition, the petitioner has prayed for the following reliefs:

“i. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of certiorari calling for the original record and pleased to quash the impugned order dated 08.06.2016 (Annexure – 2) passed by the respondent no. 2 i.e. District Magistrate, Uttarkashi, District Uttarkashi.

ii. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of Mandamus directing and commanding the respondents that they shall not interfere in the peaceful business activities i.e. in running the mutton shop in his house situated at the roadside of Gangotri National Highway without any valid reason.

iii. Issue a writ, order or direction in the nature of Prohibition making declaration to the effect that after central enactment of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 the bye-laws no. 3 framed by the respondent Zila Panchayat became illusionary and same are not applicable for the purpose of regulating food safety activities in rural area, therefore, no license from respondent Zila Panchayat is required to do business.””

To put things in perspective, the Bench then envisages in para 2 that, “The facts of the case, not disputed at this stage, are that petitioner is a resident of village Hina Gaon, Police Station – Maneri, District – Uttarkashi. His father was recorded tenure holder having bhumidhari land bearing Khasra Nos. 1555 and 15556, situated in the aforesaid village. He was running a mutton shop since 2006 in a rented accommodation in village – Hina Gaon, after getting license from Zila Panchayat. Though, according to him, license was not required after enforcement of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (hereinafter referred to as “FSS Act, 2006” for brevity). In the year 2012, he also obtained a license from the designated authority under the FSS Act, 2006. Till the year, 2015, he ran his shop at aforesaid rented premises and after construction of his own shop over the bhumidhari land, he shifted his business of butchering and selling mutton into it. On 27.02.2016, respondent no. 3 – Zila Panchayat, Uttarkashi, through Additional Mukhya Adhikari, issued a notice to the petitioner to shift his mutton shop, within 7 days to another place, as his shop is situated 105 metre away from the bank of river Ganga, which is violative of the existing by-laws. As per the by-laws, operation of mutton/chicken shop within 500 metres from the bank of river Ganga is prohibited. On 15.03.2016, petitioner being aggrieved by the notice, preferred a Writ Petition (MS) No. 651 of 2016, which was disposed of, in limine, by this Court by giving opportunity to the petitioner to file a representation before the Authorities and with a direction to the Authorities to dispose of the same. Thereafter, on 09.05.2016, the petitioner served a copy of the aforesaid order on respondents no. 2 and 3 and prayed for issuance of license for the next financial year 2016-17 but the respondent no. 2 – District Magistrate, Uttarkashi vide order dated 09.05.2016 rejected the representation of the petitioner on the basis of the Resolutions of meeting held on 04.05.2016.”

In this same para 2, it is then further mentioned that, “Feeling aggrieved by the aforesaid order dated 09.05.2016 and minutes of meeting dated 04.05.2016, the petitioner preferred a Writ Petition (MS) No. 1383 of 2016 wherein respondents were directed to file counter affidavit within four weeks and the said writ petition is still pending. In the meantime, petitioner again represented before respondent no. 2 – District Magistrate, Uttarkashi to grant him no objection certificate, which was again rejected. The said order of the learned District Magistrate, Uttarkashi is assailed in this writ petition.”

On the one hand, the Bench then points out in para 3 that, “Learned counsel for the petitioner would submit that the only ground on which his application for grant of no objection certificate has been rejected by the District Magistrate, Uttarkashi is that his shop is situated within 500 metre from the bank of river Ganga. According to the petitioner, after passing of the FSS Act, 2006, the jurisdiction of Zila Panchayat is ceased to operate and it is only the Designated Authority, under the FSS Act, 2006 has authority to grant license or reject it in favour of the petitioner for running a shop for selling and butchering the animals. Therefore, he prayed that annexure no. 2 to the writ petition be quashed and it be declared that FSS Act, 2006 shall have overriding effect on the by-laws issued by the Zila Panchayat.”

On the other hand, the Bench then mentions in para 4 that, “Learned counsel for the State would submit that petitioner was granted license by the Designated Authority to run the shop at a particular place but he shifted his shop, after getting the license from the Designated Authority under the FSS Act, 2006, to another place, which came within 500 metre from the bank of river Ganga, therefore, no objection certificate was not granted to him and order passed by District Magistrate, Uttarkashi does not have any infirmity or perversity and requires no interference.”

Furthermore, the Bench then succinctly discloses in para 5 that, “Learned counsel for the State further submits that as per Section 106 (1) of the Uttarakhand Panchayati Raj Act, 2016, the Zila Panchayats have powers to make by-laws. Section 106 of the Uttarakhand Panchayati Raj Act, 2016 is quoted as under:

“106 Powers of Zila Panchayat to make bye-laws (1) A Zila Panchayat may, and where required by the State Government shall, make bye-laws for its own purposes and for the purposes of {Kshettra Panchayats}, applicable to the whole or any part of the rural area of the district, consistent with this Act and with any rule, in respect of matters required by this Act to be governed by bye-laws and for the purposes of promoting or maintaining the health, safety and convenience of the inhabitants of the rural area of the district and for the furtherance of the administration of this Act in the Khand and the district.””

Needless to state, the Bench then notes explicitly in para 6 that, “Article 243 (Part IX) of the Constitution of India provides for formation of Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat. Article 243 G provides for the powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats. For better appreciation of the matter, it is quoted below:

“243G. Powers, authority and responsibilities of Panchayats – Subject to the provisions of this Constitution the Legislature of a State may, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority and may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self government and such law may contain provisions for the devolution of powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats, at the appropriate level, subject to such conditions as may be specified therein, with respect to –

(a) the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice;

(b) the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.””

Quite ostensibly, the Bench then enunciates in para 7 that, “Thus, it is apparent from the aforesaid Article that the Constitution recognises the Zila Panchayats, as sovereign authorities, having powers to plan for economic development and social justice, as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to the matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule. Article 243 G also provides that the Legislature of a State, may by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self government. Entry 4 in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution of India provides for animal husbandry, dairying and poultry. Entry 22 provides for markets and fairs. Thus, it is clear that as far as markets and fairs and animal husbandry, dairying and poultry are concerned, the Zila Panchayat, as an institution of self government, may function to regulate animal husbandry etc. as mentioned above.”

Be it noted, the Bench then quite forthrightly holds in para 8 that, “Therefore, the contention of learned counsel for the petitioner that after passing of the FSS Act, 2006, the powers of Zila Panchayat ceased to operate with respect to food items does not appears to be correct. Since, the Zila Panchayats have been granted powers to act as institutions of self government, the provisions made by Zila Panchayat has to be harmoniously constructed with the provisions of the FSS Act, 2006.”

Most significantly, what truly constitutes the cornerstone of this notable judgment is then encapsulated in para 9 wherein it is held that, “In view of the above, this Court is of the opinion that no objection certificate is mandatory to be obtained from the Zila Panchayat or the District Magistrate for running a mutton shop in the present matter. At the same time, keeping in view the special status of State of Uttarakhand and the river Ganga that emerges from District Uttarkashi and the sanctity attached with the river Ganga by majority of population of Uttarakhand, the decision taken by the Zila Panchayat by making by-laws to the effect that no shop for butchering the animals and selling the meat within 500 metres from the bank of river Ganga appears in line with the scheme of Constitution of India, as envisaged in Part IX. Hence, this Court is of the view that respondent no. 2, District Magistrate, Uttarkashi has not committed any error in not issuing no objection certificate to the petitioner to run a mutton shop within 500 metres from the bank of river Ganga.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes aptly by directing in para 10 that, “Accordingly, the writ petition fails and is hereby dismissed. It is observed that any person, who runs a meat shop for selling and butchering the animals in District Uttarkashi, shall obtain no objection certificate from the concerned authority, in the light of by-laws made by the Zila Panchayat and also obtain license from the designated authority.”

In sum, the Uttarakhand High Court has very rightly held that Uttarkashi’s ban on meat shops within 500 meters of the river Ganga is in line with constitutional scheme. So it definitely merits no reiteration of any kind that the same has to be complied with accordingly in its entirety! No denying it!

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