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 May 2022.

Declaring the Hatirjheel-Begunbari project in the capital a public trust

On September 9 2018, Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) filed a writ petition as public interest litigation to HCD challenging the legality of the construction work in the Hatirjheel-Begunbari project.

The housing and public works secretary, chief executive officer of Dhaka South City Corporation, the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) chairman, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner, the officer-in-charge of Hatirjheel Police Station, and the project director of Hatirjheel-Begunbari project were made respondents to the writ petition.

After hearing the petition, the High Court bench of Justice Md Ashraful Kamal and Justice Rajik Al Jalil declared a short verdict disposing of a rule in this regard on 30 June 2021. The same court released the full-text verdict on 24 May 2022.

In this full-text verdict, the HCD has issued four directives and nine recommendations to protect its original character, beauty and water.

The HCD declared the allocation and construction of commercial establishments, including hotels, restaurants, and shops, in the project area illegal and has asked the authorities to remove all such establishments from the project area within 60 days from receiving the verdict. 

The judges have advised the formation of a “Hatirjheel Lake Protection, Development and Management Authority” under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to properly operate the Hatirjheel-Begunbari Project. 

The court has recommended appointing engineers from BUET and the 24th Engineering Construction Brigade of the Bangladesh Army as permanent consultants for the project. 

The court also directed to close the current water taxi services and vehicles that are harmful to the water and asked RAJUK to implement the orders. Setting up international standard toilets underground, arranging portable water without any cost, constructing walkways and separate lanes for bicycles and physically challenged people, making the lake a sanctuary for the fish, and allocating money from the revenue budget for protection, development and operation of the whole project are some of the suggestions provided by the honorable judges.

Public trust is a concept that the sovereign holds some resources in trust for the public beneficiary. The HCD in some earlier judgments gave the river the status of a living entity which is to be protected by the state as a “public trust”. Bangladesh is a land of waterbodies. In order to protect the dying water bodies surrounding Dhaka city, this is a laudable judgment.

Directing UGC to submit a report on the total number of underprivileged meritorious students attending private universities in the last 12 years

The HCD, in response to a writ petition filed by the Consumer Association of Bangladesh, directed the University Grants Commission to submit a report within 60 days on how many underprivileged, meritorious children and children of freedom fighters admitted under free education facilities to the 105 private universities since 2010. The HCD also asked to submit a report regarding the allocation of funds in research to private universities over the past 12 years.

An HCD bench of Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Khizir Hayat issued the rule asking the authorities concerned to explain within 4 weeks why their inaction to implement free education for 6% of children from underprivileged families, meritorious students and freedom fighters’ children as provided in the Private University Act, 2010 should not be declared illegal.

The government enacted the Private University Act 2010 with a view to providing a legal framework for the establishment of private universities. According to Section 9 of the Act, every private university shall provide the opportunity to 3 percent of underprivileged yet meritorious students and 3 percent of students who are children of freedom fighters, to study without any fees. To our dismay, the private universities are not reserving 6% of seats for the freedom fighter’s children and meritorious students.

As per Section 9 (6) of the Act, private universities are required to keep a certain portion of the UGC allocation for research. But, in reality, the universities are not complying with the provisions. Thus, the rule by the HCD is a leap towards making them accountable for non-compliance with legal provisions.

Ordering to identify persons as well as institutions responsible for financial scams and money laundering through e-commerce platforms

The HCD bench of justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Khizir Hayat gave the order following three separate writ petitions filed in HCD by three supreme court lawyers and aggrieved customers seeking necessary directives on the issue.

Lawyer Shishir Manir filed a petition in September last year on behalf of 33 consumers of the e-commerce platform. Later, Md Anwarul Islam and Humayun Kabir Pallob, filed two other writ petitions as public interest litigations seeking directives over the e-commerce scams.

Concerned authorities, including Secretaries to the ministries of commerce, finance, information and home, Bangladesh Bank’s governor, BFIU, Bangladesh Competition Commission and Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection were made respondents.

HCD issued the order following a compliance report of BFIU that indicates evidence of money laundering, fraudulence and suspicious transactions by 8 e-commerce platforms.

In the order, HCD asked the concerned authorities to find out persons and companies whose actions caused severe financial damage to customers of e-commerce sites to take necessary actions.

The HCD issued a rule asking the respondents to explain within 4 weeks why their inaction and failure to prevent the financial scams of the e-commerce platforms and protect the consumers rights should not be directed illegal and why necessary legal action should not be taken against the defaulters. The court also questioned why they should not be directed to compensate the customers whose money was misappropriated. The HCD asked why the respondents shouldn’t be directed to form an independent regulatory body to oversee the functions of the companies and protect the interests of the customers.

With the advancement of society fraudulence and financial scams have increased. In this era of digitalization, e-commerce is one of the most profitable and vital platforms that has added another dimension to this issue. Many online platforms take money from the customers in advance and don’t supply the product in due time. These e-commerce platforms can transact the customers’ money to different sectors or to their personal or business accounts violating the rights of consumers protected under the Consumers Rights Protection Act 2009. This order is a commendable step towards the protection of consumers from financial scams of e-commerce platforms.

Rejecting anticipatory bail plea of four North South University Trustees for embezzling Tk 303.82 crore

In May 2022, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed the case against 4 NSU trustees for embezzling money in course of purchasing land for the university and in the name of campus development with the consent of a few members of the Board of Trustees, without informing the University Syndicate, the University Grants Commission, and the Ministry of Education. Including the four members of the Board of Trustees, the chairman of the board, and the managing director of Ashaloy Housing and Developers Limited, were also charged in the case. The HCD ordered the police to arrest and produce them before the trial court within 24 hours.

According to the Private University Act 2010, the board of trustees is the highest governing body in any private university and undoubtedly should be accountable if their actions violate the law.

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