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 May 2023.

SC upholds the stay order of HCD on DU Bangla department’s decision to keep students’ faces, and ears uncovered:

On 14 May 2023, the Chamber Court of the Appellate Division of the SC upheld an HCD order that temporarily suspended the decision of Dhaka University’s Bangla department requiring its female students to keep their faces, including their ears, uncovered during exams and presentations. Justice M Enayetur Rahim, the chamber judge of the Appellate Division, issued the order after considering a petition filed by the state against the HCD’s decision. SC lawyers Belayet Hossain and Md Faizullah Faiz represented the writ petitioners, while Deputy Attorney General Amit Talukder represented the state during the Chamber Court hearing. The HCD had previously stayed the Bangla department’s decision for six months on 28 March, following a writ petition filed by three students of the department who challenged the legality of the requirement.

The petition, which has raised concerns about religious rights and individual freedoms, will be further deliberated by the regular bench of the Supreme Court in the coming months. As the case progresses, it will undoubtedly continue to spark discussions about striking a balance between cultural norms, religious beliefs, and academic requirements within the educational system.

HCD directs Muhammad Yunus to pay Tk 120 million donation tax after challenged notice

On 31 May 2023, the HCD ordered the sole novel laureate of Bangladesh Dr. Muhammad Yunus to pay a donation tax worth tk 120 million. Previously on 23 May, Dr. Muhammad Yunus filed a petition challenging the notice of NBR claiming tax worth Tk 150 million on donation. According to the petition, NBR gave three separate notices to Dr. Younus claiming Tk 153 million in taxes against Tk 766 million in donations in three separate fiscal years. The High Court Division fixed 31 May for hearing the petition.

The HCD bench passing the order was constituted by Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar and Justice Sardar Md Rashed Jahangir. Dr. Yunus was represented by Barrister Mostafizur Rahman while Attorney General AM Aminuddin was on behalf of the government.

Now Dr. Yunus can file for leave to appeal. If the chamber court of the Appellate Division denies permission to file such an appeal, Dr. Yunus will be required to settle the donation tax amount demanded by the NBR.

HCD seeks submission of all documents related to the Jamuna River narrowing project

The HCD has instructed the authorities of the Bangladesh Water Development Board to furnish all documents related to the Jamuna River narrowing project within a 10-day timeframe. This directive came in response to a writ petition filed by a rights organization named Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), presented by a group of SC lawyers and heard by the bench of Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice Muhammad Mahbub Ul Islam.

Lawyer Manzill Murshid represented the writ petition and Deputy Attorney General Abul Kalam Khan Daud represented the state. The initial writ petition, backed by a report titled “A plan for narrowing Jamuna River (Jamuna nodi chhoto korar chinta)” published by a Bangla daily on 12 March, sought intervention from the HCD to address alleged misconduct committed by officials associated with the “Jamuna River Narrowing Project” under Rule 2 of the Government Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 2018. The petition also requested the court to issue a rule in this regard.

Following a previous order from the HCD on 21 May, which demanded a list of officials involved in the project and sought clarification on its finalization and the authenticity of the published report, the HCD’s recent move on 28 May demanded the submission of all project-related documents. Lawyer Manzill Murshid highlighted that the project’s officials had potentially disregarded the government’s decision by pursuing a project that involved occupying rivers, canals, and reservoirs.

The published report revealed that the Bangladesh Water Development Board had formulated a project proposal costing Tk 11.10 billion, aimed at reducing the width of the Jamuna River from 15 kilometers to 6.5 kilometers. The Ministry of Water Resources forwarded the proposed project, titled ‘Sustainable Infrastructure for Jamuna Riverbank Protection and Risk Mitigation,’ to the Planning Commission.

In response to the proposed project, the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads, and Railways advocated for its cancellation. In a statement, the committee expressed concerns about potential natural disasters if such a large-scale project were implemented without thorough research. The committee warned of adverse impacts on water flow, groundwater levels, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity, livelihoods, and the overall ecology of the region. Further proceedings on this issue are scheduled for 11 June.

The author was assisted by Rafid Hasan Safwan, who is currently serving as a Junior Editor at Dhaka Law Review.