12 important cases heard by Justice Govind Mathur as Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court

The record will show that Justice Mathur adopted a pro-human rights, pro-privacy, and pro-free speech approach while deciding cases and had a strong sense of the Court's duty as a guardian of fundamental rights.
12 important cases heard by Justice Govind Mathur as Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court
Justice Govind Mathur

Justice Govind Mathur was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court on November 14, 2018. After a tenure of more than two years, he demitted office on April 13, 2021.

Justice Mathur helmed the High Court at a time during which the Uttar Pradesh government copped criticism for its heavy-handed laws and policies. Not one to shy away from pulling up State authorities when the occasion demanded it, Justice Mathur held in one of his verdicts,

"The Courts are meant to impart justice and no court can shut its eyes if a public unjust is happening just before it."

The record will show that Justice Mathur adopted a pro-human rights, pro-privacy, and pro-free speech approach while deciding cases and had a strong sense of the Court's duty as guardian of the fundamental rights of citizens. He took up a number of cases touching upon these issues suo motu.

Here is an overview of some important cases heard by Chief Justice Govind Mathur during his tenure at the Allahabad High Court.

1. Setting aside illegal detention of Dr. Kafeel Khan

In Nuzhat Perween v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the First Bench headed by Justice Mathur quashed the detention of Dr. Kafeel Khan, who was detained under the National Security Act for his speech at Aligarh Muslim University during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (anti-CAA) protests.

While setting aside the detention, Justice Mathur labelled Khan's detention as 'arbitrary' and 'illegal'.

Justice Mathur even went to the extent of stating that Khan's speech in fact was a clarion call for national integrity and unity and not the other way around.

"A complete reading of the speech prima facie does not disclose any effort to promote hatred or violence. It also no where threatens peace and tranquillity of the city of Aligarh. The address gives a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens. The speech also deprecates any kind of violence. It appears that the District Magistrate had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent," the Court observed.

2. Name and Shame posters an "unwarranted interference in privacy"

Banners displaying anti-CAA protesters
Banners displaying anti-CAA protesters

At a time when the entire country was witnessing agitations against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government instituted ‘Name and Shame’ posters in Lucknow which had displayed the pictures and personal details of accused who had allegedly caused damage to public property during the protests. Personal details of over 50 accused, who were "joint and severally" liable to pay over Rs. 64 lakh to the government, were exhibited on the streets of Lucknow.

Chief Justice Govind Mathur took suo motu cognizance of this decision of the State government and labelled the same as an attack on privacy. Accordingly, a petition was registered by the Court (In-Re Banners Placed On Road Side In The City Of Lucknow).

Coming down heavily on the government authorities, the Court remarked that the "placement of personal data of selected persons reflects colorable exercise of powers by the Executive."

Accordingly, Mathur J. directed the State authorities to remove the posters/hoardings with immediate effect.

In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the State which is subject matter of this public interest litigation is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people. The same hence, is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the Court said.

3. Police brutality at Aligarh Muslim University

When students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were allegedly assaulted by police authorities, a Bench headed by Chief Justice Mathur in Mohd. Aman Khan v. Union of India directed the National Human Rights Commission to probe the violence.

The Court also directed the District Magistrate of Aligarh to ensure that all necessary medical assistance be provided to the students who were injured during the lathi charge that took place on December 14 and 15, 2019.

Later, the National Human Rights Commission submitted a detailed report before the Court. Taking note of the said report, Chief Justice Mathur directed that “suitable action” be taken against the delinquent police officers found to have indulged in “unnecessarily caning” students of AMU and damaging vehicles during student protests against the CAA.

4. Unauthorized surveillance by State

In Bablu Shah v. State of Uttar Pradesh, a Bench headed by Justice Mathur pulled up the State authorities and restricted them from putting a citizen under surveillance. The Court said that such surveillance violates the right to free movement and invades privacy.

We are of considered opinion that there is no need to keep the petitioner under surveillance by maintaining his history-sheet and, as such, the same deserves to be discontinued. Accordingly, the writ petition is allowed. The respondents are directed to discontinue all the surveillance of the petitioner as per Chapter XX of the Uttar Pradesh Police Regulations,” the Court said.

5. COVID-19 quarantine centres and migrant crisis

Migrant Workers
Migrant Workers

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached its peak for the first time, CJ Mathur took suo motu cognizance of the condition of various quarantine centres across Prayagraj (Re Inhuman Condition At Quarantine Centres And For Providing Better Treatment To Corona Positive).

This, after an email was sent to him revealing that the quarantine centres did not have adequate hygienic conditions.

Later on, in the same matter, the Court took note of the migrant workers who were heading back to Uttar Pradesh after the nationwide lockdown was announced. The State government was directed to ensure that every migrant is properly quarantined for at least 15 days in quarantine facilities, which should have proper sanitization and food and medical facilities.

A Bench headed by CJ Mathur also issued notice in a PIL seeking enforcement of the fundamental rights of migrant workers who had been walking across Uttar Pradesh to reach their hometowns.

6. Consider door-to-door vaccination

Most recently, Justice Mathur, after taking note of the spike in COVID-19 cases, and directed the Government of Uttar Pradesh to think about door-to-door vaccination for all.

We deem it appropriate to ask the State Government to check the viability of vaccination for one and all and not for just citizens above the age of 45 years. Government should check the viability of inoculating such students who are to appear in the Uttar Pradesh High School and Intermediate Examinations. In fact a door to door vaccination programme should be chalked out. The State Government shall also examine viability to have night curfew to check late evening and high social gatherings," the order said.

7. War at the Bar: The Tribunal controversy

Issues surrounding the establishment of various tribunals in Uttar Pradesh sparked protests at the Bar earlier this year, with bar associations calling for boycott of courts.

There was a disagreement regarding the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax Appellate Tribunal and the Education Services Tribunal in the State.

Justice Mathur took suo motu cognizance in the Education Tribunal controversy and directed the Uttar Pradesh government to complete the process of enacting the Uttar Pradesh Education Services Tribunal Bill, 2021. However, it was made clear that the Education Tribunal can be established only with the leave of the High Court.

On a similar note, Mathur J. stayed the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Appellate Tribunal in Uttar Pradesh. It is pertinent to note that after these orders were passed, the Allahabad and Awadh Bar Associations called off their strikes and resumed court work.

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8. Sunday hearing to hear case on missing soldier

A Bench led by Mathur CJ assembled on Gandhi Jayanti last year to hear a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of a missing soldier. The Court directed the Command Officer, Military Police, Police Station Cantt, Bareilly to provide all necessary details with regard to Sepoy Rajat Singh, who has said to be missing from the Head Quarters, UB Area, Officers Mess at Bareilly since July 28, 2018.

9. Human rights of prisoners

Another instance where Justice Mathur took suo motu cognizance was in Re : Reference to the condition of District Jail, Basti. In this matter, the Court took note of the condition of prisons and directed the government to carry out a proper inspection of the District Jail in Basti, Uttar Pradesh.

The Court also observed,

"Suffice to state that in globally accepted criminal jurisprudence, the doctrine of deterrent punishment is leaving space for reformative theory. In our country, we have accepted a mixed formula, i.e., of deterrent punishment and reformation of criminal in prisons which are nowadays known as reformatories…It is also well settled that the prisoners too are having human-rights and whatever requirements noticed in the report are nothing, but essential ingredients to ensure application of the rights aforesaid."

10. Police assault on Etah Advocate

In Re Suo Moto Cognizance Of The Police Atrocities Over An Advocate, a Bench headed by Mathur J. took suo motu cognizance of the police assault on a lawyer at Etah.

In December last year, a video was circulated showing a lawyer being dragged and assaulted by police authorities in Uttar Pradesh. Taking note of the incident, the Court ordered the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Etah to submit a detailed report on the incident.

11. Government can interfere if maladministration is visible in Minority Institutions

In an important ruling, the Court in Diocese Of Varanasi Education Society And 9 Others v. State of UP said that although minorities have the right to maintain their educational institutes autonomously, the State can interfere if there is visible “maladministration”.

"We are having no doubt in arriving at the conclusion that Article 30 protects the minority institutions from interference of the Government in their establishment, management and administration but that in no manner prevents the State to ensure good administration by putting checks on the eventualities giving rise to maladministration," the Court ruled.

12. Religious conversion law

He was also a part of the Bench that had issued notice to the State government in Ajit Singh Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh, in a batch of PILs challenging the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 promulgated by the UP Governor in November 2020.

The said Ordinance was brought to prohibit religious conversions and restrict conversion based on any type of allurement.

Chief Justice Mathur's approach to the law can be summarised in this quote of his, which was part of his speech on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti last year:

Communalism, casteism, regionalism, gender bias and close-minded view of socio-political issues are antithesis to our Constitutional ideals and we must fight against those fearlessly, fairly and without any hesitation.

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