This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ highlights notable pronouncements of the High Court Division (HCD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh during May 2020. The SC has remained closed since 24 March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the president exercised his ordinance making power under article 93(1) of the constitution to enact the ‘Usage of Information and Communication Technology by Court Ordinance, 2020‘ for the virtual operation of the judiciary of Bangladesh during the pandemic. The HCD started hearing petitions virtually from 12 May. 

Directing to protect dolphins in the Halda river

Barrister Abdul Qaium Liton filed this writ petition after the newspapers reported the killing of 24 dolphins in the Halda river. He sought directives from the HCD to prevent such killings. The HCD upon hearing the petitioner directed the concerned authorities to take immediate steps to prevent these killings and to protect the dolphins. It also asked the director of the Department of Environment (DoE) in Chattogram to file a compliance report to the HCD on the preventive steps taken by them regarding this matter within 72 hours.

Subsequently, the HCD went through the report and directed the deputy commissioner of Chattogram to form a committee to prevent the killing of dolphins and mother fishes and to protect the biodiversity of the Halda river. Meanwhile newspapers reported the killing of another dolphin in the river, raising the total death toll to 25. The petitioners brought the HCD’s attention to this incident during the next hearing. The HCD then asked the committee to submit a report by 15 June on the measures they had taken to stop the killings. It further asked the committee to share details of the dolphin that was killed during the pendency of the writ.

This is a brilliant instance of judicial activism on animal rights and biodiversity protection. Together with the efforts of the concerned stakeholders, the court should ultimately bring the real perpetrators to book for killing 25 dolphins until now in the Halda river.  

Rejecting the bail of the Daily Sangram’s editor

In December 2020 freedom fighter Afzal Hossain filed a case against Abdul Asad, the Daily Sangram’s editor, for violating section 21 of the Digital Security Act, 2018 by pronouncing convicted and executed war criminal Abdul Quader Molla as a ‘martyr’ in a newspaper article. The trial court later ordered for his imprisonment in this case. Abdul Asad then filed a bail petition to the HCD on the grounds of old age, physical ailments and five months of imprisonment during the pendency of the trial. The state opposed the petition arguing that terming a war criminal as a martyr is a serious offence and a mockery of our constitution. The court eventually rejected his bail petition and asked him to file another petition to a regular HCD bench once the SC resumes its normal functions.

Directing the government to ensure the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers

Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) filed this writ petition owing to the refusal of treatments to patients by many private hospitals and clinics. HRPB submitted that these hospitals refused treatments since their staff had not been provided with proper safety equipment. They argued that not receiving treatment from medical facilities is a violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. Thus, HRPB requested the court to issue a rule asking the concerned authorities why they should not be directed to take the required measures to ensure that private medical facilities provide all kinds of treatments to the patients. Furthermore, they asked the HCD to hold the respondents accountable for their failure to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic and why such failure should not be declared illegal and unconstitutional.

Afterward the HCD directed the government to ensure the supply of PPE (gloves and masks) to every medical staff in all private hospitals and clinics across Bangladesh. It also directed the chairman of the advisory committee for the prevention of communicable diseases to submit a report on the steps taken by them to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19 to the court in one week.

It needs to be mentioned that in March another HCD bench had ordered the government to supply PPE to every healthcare provider across Bangladesh. However, this writ reveals that the government failed to comply with that order. Hence, the concerned public authorities should be held accountable; and if they are found guilty of not complying with the court’s orders, they should be punished for contempt of court.    

Postponing the hearing of the ‘N95 mask scam’ case

In March the Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD) of the Directorate General of Health Services acquired face masks from JMI Hospitals Requisite Manufacturing Limited for ensuring the safety of the frontline healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Mugda General Hospital authorities found no N95 masks inside the box labeled ‘N95 masks’ received from CMSD on 30 March.  The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) began investigating after this was brought to the government’s attention. However, the media reported that MOFHW remained lax with their investigation. Hence, Barrister Humayun Kabir Pallab filed a writ petition seeking the HCD’s directives to investigate the scam and take proper actions against the concerned authorities. During the hearing on 19 May the HCD opined that the petitioner should wait for MOHFW’s investigation report. It further suggested that a regular HCD bench hear the matter after MOHFW submits the investigation report and the SC resumes its normal operations.

While the court exercised restraint due to an ongoing investigation, the petitioner rightfully invoked the HCD’s writ jurisdiction in such a corruption case where the authorities are reportedly delaying the investigation. MOHFW should conclude the investigation soon and bring the responsible ones to book for this scam.

Staying the bail of Farmers Bank’s former director

In 2018 the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed graft cases against the former chairman, Mahbubul Haque Chisty and the former director, Rashedul Haque Chisty of Farmers Bank, along with a few others. ACC charged them with laundering a total of over BDT 159 crores worth of illegally accumulated wealth. Later, on 18 and 19 May Dhaka Special Judge’s Court-6 and Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court granted bail to Rashedul Haque in separate cases. ACC filed a revision petition against his bail order to the HCD. The HCD preliminarily stayed his bail until 28 May. On 28 May the court postponed his bail hearing for a regular HCD bench once the SC resumes its normal functions.

Given the severity of the charges and the amount of money laundered, the HCD was correct to stay Rashedul Haque’s bail. Earlier investigations already revealed numerous illegalities in the activities of the accused individuals while they were in charge of the Farmers Bank’s management. Therefore, ACC should complete the investigation on time and prosecute the alleged individuals based upon their findings.

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