Thursday, February 29, 2024

Srimati Radhika Sinha Institute and Sachidanand Sinha Library (Requisition And Management) Act, 2015 is constitutionally valid: Patna High Court

Patna High Court's bench of Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Rajiv Roy delivered a judgement on February 29, 2024 after hearing the writ petition which challenged the constitutional validity Srimati Radhika Sinha Institute and Sachidanand Sinha Library  (Requisition And Management) Act, 2015 on January 8, 2024. The petition was filed May15, 2015 by Anurag Krishna Sinha against the State of Bihar. The petition was heard on some fifteen occasions. The judgment was reserved on January 8, 2024.. The judgement was authored by the Chief Justice. The writ petition stands dismissed. This dismissal reversed the interim order dated May 22, 2015 by the bench of the then Chief Justice L. Narasimha Reddy and Justice Sudhir Singh which had suspended the operation of the Act as an interim measure.

Both Radhika Sinha and Sachchidanand Sinha were towering personalities of Bihar. The latter was the first President of the Constituent Assembly of India. His contribution to the making of Constitution is well known. The Library was constructed with the personal funds of the wife of Sachchidanand Sinha way back in 1924. Radhika Sinha had sold her assets and with the sale proceeds constructed a library on a land given by the then Secretary to the Government. The personal collection of books of about ten thousand volumes, made by Dr. Sachchidanand Sinha and various other books have been kept in the library and ever since then it is functioning. The library is being run by a Trust, constituted under a deed. Till 1955, the Government of Bihar acknowledged the right, title, and ownership on the land, building, books and fixtures of the library in the trustees.  

On November 24, 1955, the Government of Bihar entered into an agreement with the Trust with the sole
purpose of seeking permission of the trust to permit the use of the Trust for implementation of the governmental scheme of Library reorganization. 
In the process, certain financial arrangement is also made. Clause 11 of the agreement provides that in the event of any breach of the agreement by the Trustees, the Government shall have the discretion to stop all further grants. It is also important to note that in the 1st clause of the agreement the State Government recognized the ownership and management of the land, building and structures, furnitures and fixtures, books and periodicals and other properties and assets as vested in the Trust. In 1983, an Ordinance was issued for taking over the Library. That became the subject matter of the proceedings before this Court as well as before the Supreme Court and in meanwhile, the Ordinance itself lapsed. 

It emerges from the judgement that, a Division Bench of the High Court had held that despite the lapse,  the vesting under the ordinance will have an enduring effect. "The Hon’ble  Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Division Bench expressing surprise at the rejection of the writ petition after taking note of the fact of both the ordinances having lapsed without any legislative measure having been taken during the currency of the ordinances. The vesting was adjudged to be life-less by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court was in the year 1996 and the State did not attempt any action for long years. In the year 2015, again, the State came with the present legislation."

The present Act which was challenged has been enacted with an objective “to provide provision for requisition, transfer and better management and development of Srimati Radhika Sinha Institute and Sachchidanad Sinha Library, Patna and for matters connected and incidental thereto.”

Sunil Kumar, the petitioner's senior counsel submitted that the Act, as has been brought out, is violative of Article 14 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution. The State lacks legislative competence to enact a law on a trust and the trustees. ‘the Institute & Library’ is covered under the Indian Trust Act brought out under Entry 10 of the Concurrent list (List III) of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India. An Act of the State legislature, for acquisition of property, cannot impinge upon the legislation brought out by the Union Parliament.

P. K Shahi, the Advocate General argued that the Bihar State Public Library and Information Centre Act, 2008 has Section 3  which specifically speaks of State Libraries; which the Institute & Library is, as per the agreement entered into in the year 1955. Insofar as the contention, with respect to special enactment having precedence above the general enactment, it is argued that the principle has no application insofar as the Indian Trust Act and the subject Act is concerned. The ownership of the properties is sought to be taken over and since the enactment itself in its Preamble speaks of development and better management of ‘the Institute & Library’, this is the public interest and there is no question of any digression from the objectives of the trust.  

Notably, on May 22, 2015, the bench of the then Chief Justice led bench had suspended the operation of the Act as an interim measure subject to the conditions that – (a) The Trust shall not alienate or create third party interest vis-à-vis the property; (b) Inventory of all the books and furnitures shall be prepared and be submitted to this Court on or before the next date of hearing; and,(c) The accounts of the Trust for the past two years, duly audited by a Chartered Accountant shall be placed before this Court. It is not clear from the proceedings whether this part of his order has been complied with.

He observed that Section 3 of the 2015 Act provides for vesting of the entire Library and its assets in the State Government, from the date of commencement of the Act. In Section 7 it is stated that if any question arises for the payment of compensation for the „acquisition‟ of the scheduled institution, and its right, title and interest, the State Government may pay only maximum one rupee after examining the claims.

The order was authored by Chief Justice Reddy.  He had observed, "The Act is not clear as to whether it proposes to 'acquire' or 'requisition' the property. The nomenclature of the Act provides with the legislative intent to 'requisition' the property, whereas Section 7 of the Act speaks of acquisition. The substantial difference between two concepts is too well known. Requisition can only be for a temporary purpose, whereas acquisition will result in transfer of ownership, for consideration." He also observed that "The Constitution was amended changing the right to property from fundamental to constitutional right. Article 300 of the Constitution provides that no property shall be taken over by the State except by paying compensation. The Act in its present form, violates Article 300 of the Constitution." He had noted that "it is difficult to fit the legislative exercise into any specific entry under List II of Schedule 7 of the Constitution. The Act virtually results in taking over private property without any compensation." His order stated that "as late as in the year 1955, the Government of Bihar acknowledged the right, title, and ownership on the land, building, books and fixtures of the library in the trustees. The same cannot be made to vest in the State without providing the adequate compensation or other measures. The relation between the State and the Trust is governed by an agreement. If the endeavour of the State is to ensure that the Library is to be properly maintained, necessary measures can certainly to be taken.We prima facie find that the legislative power used to commit the breach of an agreement, to which the State is a party. The Act, in a way results in insult to the legacy of the great personality. The composition of the Trust would speak about the greatness of the Trust. The Trustees included Former Chief Justice of India, Judges of this Court and Eminent Persons of great reputation. "

Unlike Chief Justice Reddy's interim order, Chief Justice Vinod Chandran's final judgement penultimate paragraph states that "The vesting occurs of ‘the Institute & Library’ on the State Government for the purpose of better management and development of ‘the Institute & Library’. The objects of the Trust cannot be digressed from by the State Government nor is it intended to be, as is disclosed from the impugned enactment. Whatever rights, powers and duties that remained with the Trustees, in the management of ‘the Institute & Library’ as was available after Annexure-2 agreement was entered into, would also vest completely in the State Government by the impugned enactment."

He concluded that "We find absolutely no reason to entertain the writ petition and dismiss the same but hasten to add that the vesting does not absolve the State Government from carrying on the objects of the Trust; which obligation attaches itself to the Trust taken over by the State Government, who has the responsibility to further the intention of the original settlor." It is apparent that the spirit of Justice Reddy's order regarding "the legacy of the great personality" has been safeguarded. The judgement implies that Srimati Radhika Sinha Institute and Sachidanand Sinha Library  (Requisition And Management) Act, 2015 is constitutionally valid.


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