Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission, India has expressed concerns over the living conditions of slum dwellers in Mumbai.

Acting on a complaint in this regard, the Commission issued notices to the Government of Maharashtra and the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs seeking their responses.

The Government of Maharashtra responded, through its Chief Secretary, that several efforts have been made and schemes formulated to provide dwelling units to the slum dwellers for Economically Weaker Sections with the State and Central assistance under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojna (Urban), PMAY (U). Shortage of funds has been cited as a constraint.

The Centre on its part responded that out of 2.24 lakh houses in Maharashtra, 2 lakh were sanctioned for Mumbai alone, out of which 58225 have been grounded.

The Commission has sought a response from the Secretary, Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to give a comprehensive report. He has been given 4 weeks’ time. The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs vide its communication dated 3rd December, 2021, submitted that the Land and Colonization are State subjects. The Centre is augmenting the efforts of the State to meet the housing needs of economically weaker sections in urban areas through Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojna-Urban (PMAY-U).

National Human Rights Commission

[Notice dt. 7-1-2022]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission decided to get examined the medical report of Vara Vara Rao, sent by the Government of Maharashtra in response to its notices, by the medical expert on its panel. The report is to be given within 02 weeks for consideration of the Commission. Mr. Rao, a Telgu Poet and intellectual, is lodged in Taloja jail in Maharashtra for about 02 years.

The Commission found the submission as reasonable and plausible and accepted it considering the fact that COVID pandemic has affected the State of Maharashtra in large scale. It held the report as comprehensive which included the medical examination reports of Mr. Rao by the team of doctors and other medical reports.

Earlier, taking cognizance of the matter vide its proceedings dated 13.07.2020, the Commission opined that the deteriorating health condition of Mr. Rao is a serious issue of violation of human rights. The Commission directed to issue notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra calling for a detailed report in the matter. The Commission also directed to immediately constitute a Medical Board to analyze the health condition of Mr. Rao. The directions of the Commission were accordingly conveyed to the authorities concerned.

In the meantime, the Commission received several communications regarding his deteriorating health condition. It was communicated to the Commission that Mr. Rao had been tested positive for COVID-19 and that he had been transferred to St. George’s Hospital, which is a State Government-run COVID facility. Considering potential danger to his life, being a COVID positive with co-morbidities, the Commission directed the government of Maharashtra to provide him the best possible treatment at a private hospital without any further delay. The Commission on 17.07.2020 directed the State Government to shift him to the best possible COVID hospital, the same day.

In response to the directions given by the Commission, a report dated 22.07.2020 was received from the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra. The report confirmed that he was COVID positive with comorbidities. It is further mentioned in the report of the Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra that in view of the directions given by the Commission, Mr. Rao was shifted from St. George’s hospital to Nanawati Super Specialty Hospital, Mumbai on 19.07.2020.

The State Government contended that there was no intentional delay in shifting him to the super specialty hospital keeping in view the requirement of arrangements including security. The case being complex one, required proper coordination of multiple agencies, which includes, assessment of the prisoner’s health condition by a team of experts, required procedural compliance, availability of beds in the super-specialty hospital, which is treating COVID cases, proper coordination with the private authorities and adequate security measures for shifting the prisoner. It is also mentioned that constant vigil was kept on the prisoner’s health condition by the treating doctors.

National Human Rights Commission

Press Release dt. 21-08-2020

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“Men come and go, but institutions must go on …”

—Justice M.C. Chagla, former CJ, Bombay HC

Bombay High Court: In an endeavor to achieve what Justice Chagla expected of the Court when he spoke on completion of 100 years of Bombay High Court’s existence, the Bench of A.S. Oka and M.S. Sonak, JJ. issued a writ of mandamus directing the Government of Maharashtra to identify and offer a suitable land in Mumbai for construction of a new High Court building.  

Need for a new High Court complex

Ahmad M. Abdi, a member of the Bar appearing in person, filed public interest litigation requesting the Court to enjoin the State Government to provide a new building for the Bombay High Court with fixtures, furniture and other infrastructure on a priority basis. The occasion for such a petition arose as it is felt by all the stakeholders that the present historic building which is around 140 years old is not sufficient anymore for the proper working of and administration of justice by the High Court due to manifold increase in the number of litigations, Judges, advocates, staff, case-record, etc. At the dawn, the Letters Patent of the Bombay High Court authorised the appointment of 15 judges; however, during last few years, not less than 35 Judges are sitting at the principal seat at Mumbai. 

The Court highlighted a “very few” areas of lack of infrastructure. 22 such areas were illustrated which include:

  • No waiting/standing space for litigants;
  • Lack of common rooms for staff;
  • No video conference rooms for the purpose of Court proceedings;
  • Inadequacy of Bar rooms;
  • No consultation rooms/premises for ADR facilities;
  • Inadequate area for High Court Library;
  • Record of cases including that of live cases has to be shifted to another premises; 
  • Makeshift Court rooms and Judges’ chambers; 
  • No scope of crowd management when more than 150-200 litigants come for a single matter; etc. 

Thus, there has been a long felt need for an integrated Court complex considering the requirements of “not only 21st century but also the 22nd century”. The Court observed, “there is a need to think about future requirements for 100 and more years. If the persons who are now at the helm of affairs ignore the same, the future generation will blame them”.

Legal Obligation of the State

The Court cited the case of Brij Mohan Lal v. Union of India, (2012) 6 SCC 502 wherein the Supreme Court considered the obligation of the State in the context of Judicial infrastructure in the light of provisions of Articles 21 and 39-A of the Constitution. Reference was also made to the case of All India Judges Assn. v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 971 which laid down detailed guidelines about the infrastructure to be provided to the Courts by all the States. It was observed, “the plea  (by the State) of financial limitations or constraints can hardly be justified as a valid excuse for not providing infrastructure to the judiciary”. It was noted that there were various authorities such as MHADA and MMRDA holding large chunks of land in the city and thus the Government could not shy away from its responsibility by giving excuses of non-availability of land  and high cost if compulsory acquisition. 

The Court held thus that it is a legal obligation of the State Government to provide a large plot of land for new Court complex.    

Views of the High Court to have primacy

A matter in issue was — “on the aspects of area required for and the design of the new complex and the infrastructure to be provided therein, whether the views of the State Government or the High Court will prevail?”

Observing, “if the State is to be treated as the sole Judge to decide what should be the infrastructure provided to this Court, it will directly affect the independence of Judiciary”, the Court decided that that only Judiciary can determine what infrastructure it needs for its effective functioning. The State Government cannot decide how many Courtrooms, offices and other facilities the High Court needs. 

Location and area of the new site

Stress was laid on the accessibility of the Court complex to the litigants. The Government had proposed allotment of a plot at Pahadi Goregaon, but it was seen that this site was not easily accessible to the litigants and the lawyers, and the suggestion was made considering the aspect of suitability. 

According to High Court Administration, a plot of land having an area of 20,23 hectare was required for setting up the new complex. However, the Government came up with a case that only 6.02 hectares were available for allotment to the High Court out of Bandra Government Colony. It was held that such calculation was based on incorrect reading of the requirements submitted by the High Court Administration. Furthermore, it was also stressed that if the High Court complex is relocated than a provision will also have to made for the construction of lawyers’ chambers in its close proximity, a fact that was being ignored by the State Government. 

Order of the Court

Lastly, the Court observed that “by continuing functioning of the High Court in a building which is rendered unsuitable with the passage of time, the State Government is effectively denying access to justice to the litigants”. In such view of the matter the Court passed the following order: 

  • State Government shall take appropriate decision of offering a large and convenient plot of land for construction of High Court complex. The decision is  to be taken within six months (the Court has stated this period to be within six months in sub-para (i) of Para 45 of its judgment; however at two other places, the period is stated to be within three months); 
  • While doing so, it is also to be considered whether additional area of 11.68 hectare (earmarked for sale) in addition to area of 6.02 hectare at Bandra (East) can be offered;
  • State Government shall reconsider its decision of not allotting a plot of lawyers’ chambers; 
  • If the Government proposal is approved by the High Court Administration, adequate funds have to be provided to it for construction of Court complex, for development of land and for providing infrastructure.

The matter is directed to be listed on 2-8-2019 for reporting compliance with the directions by the State Government. [Ahmad M. Abdi v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 89, dated 22-01-2019]