This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ curates the notable pronouncements of the Appellate Division (AD) and the High Court Division (HCD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh in March 2023.

HCD Orders Formation of Panel to Monitor Dhaka Gas and Sewerage Lines

The HCD on 14 March 2023 ordered the authorities concerned to form a committee with experts of relevant departments to regularly monitor all sewerage and gas lines in Dhaka.  The bench of Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice Ahmed Sohel passed the order and issued a rule after holding a hearing on a writ petition filed in this regard. The court asked the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) chairman, managing director of Titas Gas, managing director of Dhaka Wasa and chief executive officers of Dhaka North City Corporation and Dhaka South City Corporation to form the committee in compliance with the order within seven days.

The HCD in its ruling asked the authorities concerned to explain in four weeks why their inaction in ensuring the peaceful living of city dwellers shall not be declared illegal. Rights group Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed the writ on 12 March and Advocate Manjil Murshid moved the plea before the court.

In the context of recent explosions in Science Lab and Siddique Bazar areas in the capital, the subject matter of the writ became a major talking point for city dwellers as preventing such incidents became the core concern.

In their submissions, the petitioners contended that the negligence of the concerned authorities led to incidents as the authorities are not active in maintaining the sewerage and gas lines of the city. Their inaction had thrown thousands of people of the city into death risk.

Leaking gas can cause a fire or other types of property damage, hence, gas line maintenance is indispensable to ensure home safety. If sewer lines become blocked with debris, tree roots, dirt, or other materials, it can cause a number of inconveniences, such as sewage backups, foul odors, and water damage. The city dwellers are already becoming vulnerable to such consequences.

Proper maintenance of gas and sewerage lines is essential to ensure a standard life and a safe environment at home. Whenever the executive is lethargic in carrying out their duties the judiciary has to become proactive in such instances in order to safeguard the interests of common citizens.

HCD Orders to Expel 5 Students and Withdraw the Hall Provost

The HCD on 1 March 2023 ordered the authorities of the Islamic University in Kushtia to immediately expel five students involved in torturing its student Phulpori Khatun. The HCD also asked the university authorities to withdraw the provost of the hall where the incident took place. The HCD bench of Justice JBM Hassan and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by Gazi Md Mohsin, an SC lawyer, seeking HCD directive regarding the issue.

The victim was tortured and intimidated by the then IU unit Chatra League vice-president Shanjida Chowdhury Ontora and her associates, including Tabassum, Mim, Urmi, and Maobiya, in Deshratna Sheikh Hasina Hall on the campus at night on 12 February 2023. The victim had been forced to get undressed and was videoed by the violators. 

The victim was also threatened that the video would be made viral on social media if the victim disclosed the matter to anyone, according to the complaint the victim filed with the university administration, including the university proctor, student adviser and hall provost, on 14 February.

The provost is appointed by the Vice-Chancellor in each hall for coordinating the hall activities as per guidelines to ensure the hall with sound environment and convenience for student living. When such an abhorrent incident takes place under the watch of the provost the person in that position must be made accountable for his failure in repelling such occurrences.

The Court has rightfully taken stern action in addressing the violation made against the victim as numerous students in the country find themselves in alike circumstances of torture and degrading treatment due to some ill culture among hall students and laxity of the authorities. As a consequence of such heinous practices at university halls, many innocent students are deprived of their sound life which ultimately hampers their academic careers as well.

HCD Stays the Validity of DU Notice to Keep Female Students’ Faces Uncovered

The HCD on 28 March 2023 stayed for six months the decision of Dhaka University’s Bangla Department asking its female students to keep their faces, including their ears, uncovered during examinations and presentations. The HCD also issued a rule asking the authorities concerned to explain why the Department’s decision should not be declared illegal. The HCD bench of Justice KM Kamrul Kader and Justice Mohammad Ali passed the order after hearing a writ petition filed by three students of the Department challenging the legality of the decision.

The petitioners submitted the writ petition on behalf of the students saying the decision is contradictory to their religious belief and independence and therefore liable to be declared illegal.

The Bangla Department on 11 December 2022 issued a notice asking the students to keep their faces, including their ears, uncovered during all examinations and presentations. The notice also warned that if anyone violates the instruction, action would be taken against them as per the university rules. The female students who wear hijabs have been affected by the notice.

The Constitution of Bangladesh designates Islam as the state religion but upholds the principle of secularism. Article 28 prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality for all religions. Article 41 confers the right to practice every religion subject to law, public order, and morality.

There is no law in the country which regulates the performance of religions and categorically defines the boundaries of freedom of dressing but if it is demanded by the situation that limits be set for the proper functioning of professional fields that must be regulated by law and such restrictions have to be reasonable. Without violating constitutional guarantees, autonomous educational bodies may enact regulations which are aimed at general welfare, to maintain public convenience and overall discipline.