The Supreme Court today issued notice in the plea challenging the Uttar Pradesh government’s 2018 decision to rename the city of Allahabad as Prayagraj.
Notice was issued this morning by a Bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant. Earlier this month Justice Ashok Bhushan had recused from hearing the plea.
The Special Leave petition was filed before the Supreme Court by the Allahabad Heritage Society and some residents from the city after the Allahabad High Court dismissed the plea. Registering opposition to the name change itself, the petition filed through Advocate Shadan Farasat states,
“‘Allahabad’ has been associated with the City for over more than 400 years. The name now is not merely the name of a place but has become inextricably linked with the identity of the City and all its people irrespective of their religion. It forms part of the day to day lived cultural experience of the residents of the City and the Districts of Allahabad …
… Name changes per-se are an assault on this lived cultural experience which is associated with a City, Place, etc. For instance, although the name of ‘Connaught Place’ has been changed to Rajiv Chowk many years back, the people of the City of Delhi always refers in their day to day conversation to the place as Connaught Place only…”
In February last year, the Allahabad High Court dismissed the plea upon finding that the state government had the authority to make the name change under Section 6(2) of the Uttar Pradesh Revenue Code, 2006. The High Court had concluded that it could not interfere in such matters of policy.
The petitioners have now contended that the High Court’s findings are erroneous, arguing that the Court is empowered to intervene when there are violations of fundamental rights.
The petitioners argue that the decision to rename Allahabad as Prayagraj was taken hastily, without any meaningful public consultation.
"… the entire process was wrapped up hastily in a matter of five days … The haste with which the process was followed is itself demonstrative of the fact that the State did not adequately consider the evidence on record as well as the implication of the decision on the fundamental rights of the citizens residing and belong to Allahabad.”
In particular, the petitioners have submitted that the decision was taken without having demonstrated the government’s claims that there is public support for the change and that historically, the name of the the district and city had been changed from Prayagraj to Allahabad.
It is also argued that in doing so, the State government has not adhered to executive instructions issued by the Union Government in 1953 and 1981 to be followed when it comes to changing the names of places for non-administrative reasons. On this aspect, the petitioners also argue,
“The 1953 and 1981 notifications together make clear that names of historical places should not be changed as far as possible and for a change of name to be allowed as long as the following guidelines are fulfilled:
detailed reasons should be given for changing the name and for providing a new name
Special and compelling reasons must also be provided
Names should not be changed on the ground of local patriotism
care should be taken to see that there is no village or town etc. of the same name in the State and neighborhood which might lead to confusion.
The impugned proposal of the State Government does not satisfy any of the four conditions mentioned.”
In view of these instructions, it has also been contended that the Uttar Pradesh government did not have the unilateral authority to rename Allahabad as Prayagraj, without prior approval from the Central government.
“… the State Government can only announce or make a change of name of districts with the prior approval of the Union Government. To the knowledge of the Petitioners, no such prior approval is available in respect of the district of Allahabad yet the Respondent State Government issued notifications effecting such a name change…"
The petitioners have also raised grievance that the proposal made by the Board of Revenue to change the name of Allahabad is not in the public domain. It is further pointed out that the Allahabad High Court also ignored a specific plea by the petitioners for the disclosure of this proposal. As interim relief, the petitioners have urged the Supreme Court to direct that a copy of the proposal be disclosed to them.
In this backdrop, the petitioners have contended that the 2018 decision to rename Allahabad as Prayagraj violates the right against arbitrary action under Articles 14 and 27, the right to identity under Article 21, and the mandate to protect India’s composite culture under Articles 29 read with Article 51A(f) of the Constitution.
[Read the Petition]