Gujarat HC upholds ruling on 
physical non-judicial stamp paper

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court has disposed of a petition that challenged the state’s decision to halt the use of physical non-judicial stamp paper in the state.

A group of six petitions had been moved, urging the Court to declare that the new rule, Rule 8-A, in the Gujarat Stamps Supply and Sales Rules, 1987 was ultra vires the Indian Stamp Act, 1889 and the Gujarat Stamp Act, 1958.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri dismissed the challenge and upheld the validity of the new rule.

With the aid of the Lists in the Constitution, the Court found that the Indian Stamp Act was “neither the parent Act nor a superior legislation” to the Gujarat Act because they operated in separate spheres.

Stamp duty rates for negotiable instruments is an entry enumerated in the Union’s areas of legislation i.e. the Union List. The Indian Stamp Act was introduced using this entry.

The State List, on the other hand, lists stamp duty rates for other kinds of documents. The Concurrent List, which specifies matters upon which both the Centre and the State can legislate, has “stamp duties other than duties or fees collected by means of judicial stamps, but not including rates of stamp duty” as an entry.

The Court went on to reject the petitioner's arguments that the State did not have the power to introduce the challenged rule, noting that, "Section 74 of the 1889 Act and section 69 of the 1958 Act confers specific powers on the State Government to make rules for regulating the supply and sale of stamps and stamp paper."

Facilities for specially abled: DU faces HC ire

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday questioned Delhi University over its preparedness and lack of facilities for the specially abled students to enable them to appear in the OBE for final year undergraduate courses. "This is how you're concerned about the career and future of the final year students?" remarked a division bench of the high court presided by Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad while hearing a batch of petitions in connection with the online OBE examination conducted by the central varsity.

The bench also expressed displeasure over Delhi University not filing an affidavit even after the court had directed it to do so.

"We are also concerned by the fact that neither the Delhi University's counsel or the Central government standing counsel are in a position to inform as to the number of students who have opted for a scribe to give the OBE," it said.

The bench stated that it is important to know that the students who have asked for a scribe will be able to interact with them two days before the exams.

"Out of 2.75 lakh students who have applied for OBE, how many have applied for CSC Centre. Out of those who have sought this service of CSC, how many of them reside in remote places," the bench said while asking the varsity to file its response by Wednesday.

The bench observed that both the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Electronics and Technology (MoET) have filed their response as per the directions of the court stating the number of Common Service Centres (CSCs) which are operational.

"However, the affidavit of the MoET is silent on the number of CSCs which are not in functional state," it said.

While the arguments were going on, senior advocate Kapil Sibal who was appearing for the petitioners stated that many students reside in remote places and the CSC is not there. Hence it is important to know about the availability and logistics of these CSCs.

After noting the arguments of all the parties, the court directed the owner of the CSC Academy to be present on the next date of hearing on July 30.

"The CSC Academy's presence is required to understand as to how many CSC centres across India are situated in metro cities and how many are situated in remote areas. Accordingly, CSC academy is asked to be present with the following answers on the next date of hearing," the court said adding that the necessary data shall be collated and given by the next date of hearing.

Meanwhile, while considering the petition filed by NSUI Delhi chief Akshay Lakra, who has challenged the legality of these examinations, the bench said, "This is not the time for legality, it is the time for practical solution."

The plea has alleged that DU has flouted the laws as laid down under the applicable statutes and deliberately overlooked the Academic Council and Executive Council and grievances/representation raised by the esteemed members of the Academic Council and Executive Council while issuing the said notifications.

"When there is pandemic situation which is gripping the whole world and practical solutions are needed to save the careers of the students, you'll get into the technicality," the bench said while posting this matter for further hearing in the first week of August.

On the previous date of hearing, the high court had asked to place before it the details regarding the mock tests being conducted by the varsity and which began on July 27. "We would like to know how your mock tests went and also about how many students participated in the same. Give us the complete data by the next date of hearing," the court had said.

Initially, the varsity had announced that the online Open Book Examination (OBE) would commence from July 1, which was later postponed by the varsity to July 10 and again to August 15 without giving a specific date when the exams would take place.

Gujarat’s Rath Yatra order irks court

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court has said it is disappointed at the "passive and yielding approach" of the state government which chose to follow "a policy of appeasement and coaxing" instead of "taking a firm stance and boldly refusing" to allow the 143rd Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad on June 23 in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Despite having their religious sentiments hurt, most people correctly understood the public health concerns behind the cancellation of the age old Rath Yatra. However, what was disappointing was the passive and yielding approach of the state government.

"As a secular body heading the fight against COVID-19 in the state, the government's main focus should be protecting the health and well-being of the people at all cost, even if it means hurting the religious sentiments of some religious leaders," the court said in its final order made available on Tuesday on a PIL that sought its direction to not allow the Rath Yatra procession.

The court had, in its order on the PIL on June 20, stayed the Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad that was scheduled for June 23.

Later, the state government told the court the delay in taking a decision on the Rath Yatra was because of its effort to arrive at a consensus with the management of the temple trust "without hurting the religious sentiment of the people or compromising on public health".

"Instead of taking a firm stance and boldly refusing to allow the Rath Yatra procession citing public health reasons, the government chose to follow a policy of appeasement and coaxing to convince religious leaders, temple authorities and organizers connected with Shri Jagannath Rath Yatra to avoid holding the Rath Yatra.

"During a pandemic we do not have time for blandishment. We need action. Strong, pragmatic and robust action," the division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardilwala said in the order.

It said, in times like these, the government cannot and should not follow "a policy of appeasing cultural and religious heads," as "with infection rates going up and our resources gradually depleting, it is mandatory to focus on health rather than religion."

"A policy of appeasement sends out a very wrong message to the public. If the government remains nonchalant on the issue of religious gatherings, this will have a serious impact on how seriously the masses take the pandemic. They too may become increasingly relaxed and easy going, while indulging in gatherings that flout social distancing norms," it said.

The PIL, filed by journalist Hitesh Chavda through his lawyer Aum Kotwal, had sought the court's direction to not allow the procession given the coronavirus pandemic in the city.

After the court stayed the yatra, the state government had filed a plea to modify the order, which the court refused observing the COVID-19 situation in Ahmedabad was not comparable to that of Puri in Odisha where the Supreme Court had allowed the Jagannath Yatra with conditions.

The High Court had, at the time, also directed the additional chief secretary (home), police commissioner and the municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad to file a reply explaining the delay in taking a decision on the Trust's May 18 application seeking permission for the yatra.

In her affidavit-in-reply, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sangeeta Singh told the court the delay was due to the effort of the administration to arrive at a consensus on the matter "without hurting the religious sentiment of the people or compromising on the public health view of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Citing the government's stance in the affidavit, the court said it was "a bit disappointed."

It said the government should make hard choices and keep them "hyper clear," more so during times like this, as providing unclear and contradictory priorities to the people will lead to more troubles.

It said the decision to cancel the Rath Yatra avoided "a major catastrophe that could have completely derailed the state government's fight against the COVID-19." "The emotional, social and economic cost of the loss of lives following a major public gathering would have been devastating. The support and understanding shown by the masses was commendable," it said.

The HC said social distancing has become a principal policy mechanism to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the absence of an effective vaccine, and "for a government to function effectively during the pandemic, it is paramount to have a clear list of priorities in order to make decisions quickly and effectively."

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