The Supreme Court on Monday stayed proceedings before Patna High Court in a PIL in which the High Court had asked the Bihar government to bring in a “special legislation” to turn the entire 32-acre campus of Bihar Vidyapith in the state capital into a national monument.
A bench of Justices S A Nazeer and J K Maheshwari stayed the proceedings on a plea by the Vidyapith Society, which challenged the High Court order as “erroneous” and “in breach of settled principles”.
The Vidyapeeth Society, which was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi and had Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its first President, in its petition filed through Advocate Fauzia Shakeel, stated that the 32 acres consisted of two houses in which Prasad lived during his lifetime and that in his memory these were converted into private museums.
The High Court’s intervention began after a 2021 PIL, which sought its intervention in maintaining the “pathetic condition” of Prasad’s memorial at Ziradei village in Bihar’s Siwan district. The case was then expanded to include “two other historically important properties” in Patna that are “misused” – Prasad’s “last residence” Sadaqat Ashram and Bans Ghat, “where his mortal remains were buried”. was assigned to put out the fire”.
Calling for a “constitutional obligation” to preserve the cultural heritage, the High Court cited the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and the UNESCO Declaration on the International Destruction of Cultural Heritage, which seeks to acquire the complex. as a basis for bringing a law. It issued a notice to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to submit a report on the condition of the museums on the premises.
The High Court order stated that after interacting with Janhwij Sharma, ADG (Conservation) at ASI headquarters, Delhi, on April 20, the court was “of the firm view that for purposes of proper management and control of all three places, i.e. two museums at Bihar Vidyapith, Sadakat Ashram, and Bans Ghat…having historical value and importance, perhaps the government was required to take certain measures, one of them being bringing out special legislation”. The property, the court said, “cannot be managed by [a] few, howsoever well-intentioned their thoughts and actions may be”.
Appearing for the Society, Senior Advocate Shyam Diwan said the two museums were located only on approximately 2 acres on the 32-acre campus. Besides, about 12 institutions were running from the campus of this private society, which included BEd colleges, school, hostel, entrepreneurship centre and library among others and more than 2,000 students and various staff will be affected by the High Court order, he pointed out.
Diwan argued that the High Court’s direction to shift all these educational institutions away from the two museums was wrong. The Supreme Court has now asked the parties to maintain the status quo.