This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ curates the notable pronouncements of the Appellate Division (AD) and High Court Division (HCD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh in April 2021.
Directing the United Hospital authority to compensate the families of victims of fire incident at the hospital
On 27 May 2020 four men and one woman were killed after a fire broke out in the United Hospital’s (UH/Hospital) COVID-19 isolation unit. A writ petition (WP) was filed on 30 May by two advocates of the SC asking for direction to form a committee to investigate the allegation of negligence by the UH authority. On 1 June two more WPs were filed asking judicial inquiry in the matter. Thereafter, a victim’s wife filed a separate WP asking BDT 15 crore as compensation for herself.
Upon hearing on these WPs on 2 June the HCD ordered Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK), the Fire Service and Civil Defence, the Police Department and the UH authority to submit their reports within 14 June. Reports submitted accordingly showed the negligence by the hospital authority who did not take permission for the isolation unit. Further, the reports revealed that the fire extinguishing system of the hospital was expired, and the deaths could have been avoided if the authority had taken appropriate action.
After receiving the reports the HCD on 29 June ordered the UH authority to resolve the issue through out-of-court negotiation with the victims’ families. The UH authority could not settle the issues with the families as they were not satisfied with the amount offered by the authority, except with one family by giving them BDT 20 lac. On failure, the HCD on 15 July required the UH authority to pay BDT 30 lac to each of four victim’s families within 15 days. After a long journey of stay, appeal and review finally on 29 April 2021 the AD directed the hospital authority to pay BDT 25 lac each to the families of four victims within 30 days of receiving the court order.
The incident is a glaring example of negligence by different stakeholders of the state. Such negligence often leads to death of the citizens, and thus infringes their right to life guaranteed by article 32 of the Constitution. The damage caused to a family by death of a family member is impossible to measure, and no amount can compensate for such loss. However, such compensation may work as a recognition that a wrong has been done to the victim. Thus the direction by the apex court of the country is commendable and can be considered as an ideal precedent in this regard.
Directing the Maize Advance Agro Refinery Limited to stop operations for causing environmental hazards
Since its operation in 2012 Maize Advance Agro Refinery Limited (MAAR Ltd), a dry starch powder manufacturing company, has allegedly been damaging and polluting the environment in Shahpur area of Habiganj’s Madhabpur upazila by creating liquid waste and dumping it into the water of Ekhtiarpur Khal. The company has been found violating environmental laws and continuing its operation without renewal of the Environmental Clearance Certificate from the Department of Environment (DoE). Earlier it was also fined BDT 17.1 lac and BDT 35.8 lac by the DoE in 2017 and 2018 respectively for such activities.
Following a WP by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) the HCD on 15 March 2020 directed the government to immediately close down the operations of MAAR Ltd. The HCD also issued a rule asking the respondents including the Director General (DG) of the DoE and the owner of MAAR Ltd to explain in four weeks why their failure to stop the unlicensed, hazardous and poisoning activities of MAAR Ltd should not be declared illegal and against public interest. The HCD urged the respondents to show cause why they should not be directed to move the industry and to take measures to preserve Ekhtiarpur Khal from industrial pollution.
The MAAR Ltd, however, challenged the HCD order by filing a WP. On 29 April 2021 a six-member bench of the AD led by the Chief Justice (CJ) dismissed the petition filed by MAAR Ltd, and upheld the HCD order. Thus, the AD protected the environment by intervening in the matter.
The khal is the primary source of water that satisfies the local people’s day-to-day necessities including producing crops. Pollution of the water of the khal has affected the people of some 6 villages directly, and other 34 villages indirectly. The pollution has also been a threat to their health and livelihood. They cannot eat the fishes of the khal anymore due to extremely contaminated water and their domestic animals have also been dying after drinking that water. Right to safe environment has been recognized as a component of right to life by the apex court of the country. How environment affects human life is understood from the above fact.
This kind of intervention by the judiciary can certainly contribute to the improvement of the condition of the environment. The DG of the DoE can also play a great role in the conservation of environment. He is authorized under section 4(1) of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 (ECA) to take necessary measures for improving the environmental conditions and for regulating and lessening the pollution.
Directing to demolish unauthorised structures on Bharani Khal in Barguna
Following a WP by BELA asking for directions to evict the unlawfully built structures inside the Bharani Khal in Barguna, the HCD on 7 January 2019 directed the local authority to evict the structures from the borders of the Khal. Two local residents petitioned the HCD to alter this order, saying that they had obtained an allotment on the Khal from the government. As a result, on 24 January 2019 the HCD changed its order and permitted them to remain there.
Lastly on 20 April 2021 following a government-filed leave to appeal a full bench of the AD led by the CJ affirmed the HCD’s 7 January 2019 decision and paved the way to demolish all the structures built illegally on the banks of Bharani Khal.
The state has an obligation under article 18A of the Constitution to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity and wetlands. However, the natural wetlands are often illegally occupied by influential persons. By this order, the AD has upheld the constitution as its guardian and rightly decided to direct eviction of those illegal constructions.
Summoning the loan defaulters to explain how they will repay the borrowed money
Prashant Kumar Halder, commonly known as P K Halder, allegedly amassed BDT 3,600 crore and laundered the money abroad while performing his duties as director of the International Leasing and Finance Service Ltd (ILFSL). On 8 January the Anti-Corruption Commission filed a case against him for acquiring wealth of approximately BDT 275 crore beyond any known income sources and also for money laundering. There were allegations that 129 loan defaulters including P K Halder owed roughly BDT 1,800 crore to the ILFSL.
On 7 April 2021 the HCD called those 129 loan defaulters to explain how they would repay the loaned funds. They have been summoned to appear before the court on 24 and 25 May 2021 with a plan for paying the debt in instalments over a reasonable period.
The number of loan defaulters is increasing over years. Most of the time, they are unable to refund the huge amount of money that largely comes from the middle-lower class people of the country. Embezzlement of such public money is very condemnable. The effort by the HCD to safeguard the abuse of public resources is highly appreciable. Hopefully, the court will succeed in its holy attempt.
 Dr Mohiuddin Farooque v Bangladesh 55 DLR 69.