The Bombay High Court remarked that the honorarium and allowances granted to non-official members of committee overseeing publication of the works of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was not sufficient.
"Honorarium must be honorarium. We accept they may not ask for more but is it not the duty of the govt that it pays amount commensurate of their status, knowledge and services being rendered?" Justice Varale asked.
A division bench of Justices Prasanna Varale and Kishore Sant was referring to the state's affidavit regarding the committee constituted to oversee the project, in a suo motu PIL for the publication of Ambedkar's works.
Advocate Swaraj Jadhav prosecuting the petition pointed out that the member secretary of the committee got an honorarium of Rs 10,000 per month plus travelling allowances. The other non-official members got daily allowances and travelling allowances as per rates fixed for MLAs by government resolution in 1971. The daily allowance comes up to be Rs. 250.
The court criticised this and said, "after span of 30 years, pricing rates have a much higher level and asking non-government members to accept daily and traveling allowances at 1971 rates is not a step welcome by court".
The court further said that offering Rs. 250 to members residing in various parts of the state and having other engagements as well is "not a good gesture by the state government".
Government Pleader Poornima Kantharia said that a tripartite agreement for publication of Mahad Satyagraha and Prabuddha Bharat between the state, the committee, and private persons having the source material was attempted. It could not be finalized due to some technical difficulties.
Justice Varale remarked that meetings should lead to a fruitful result. "You are conducting meetings after meetings without it going anywhere".
The bench emphasised the need to preserve the documents. "If not taken by the state govt and preserved, there is apprehension that this material may be subject to damage. There is immediate need to see that these materials are taken and preserved by the state government", the court stated.
The court noted that the proposers of two projects for publication of materials related to agitation initiated by Ambedkar, Mahad Satyagraha and Prabuddha Bharat, agreed to an honorarium of Rs 6.5 lakh per project. However, as the tripartite agreement couldn't be finalized Rs. 13 lakh allocated for these two projects had been redeposited to the treasury.
The proposers were and are ready and willing to provide the source material to the government. In spite of this, till 2022 neither the tripartite agreement is finalized nor the state has taken the source material from these persons and paid the honorarium, Justice Varale said.
The court also criticised the budget of INR 5.6 lakhs allocated for the working of the committee for 2021-22. The court said that the state government claims it is making efforts to preserve the documents in digital form. But it has to make sufficient budgetary allocation if it wants to take the preservation of documents in digitized form seriously.
It recorded the lack of sufficient support staff for the committee, and said that the government should appoint permanent staff instead of contractual staff to ensure the committee functions smoothly and efficiently. "Accepting Kantharia's statement that there was an issue with recruitment in the past, there is an expectation of court now that sufficient staff is made available to the committee", the court said.
The court noted that Adv. Jadhav has some valuable suggestions and directed him to submit the suggestions as to the working of the committee within a week. Kantharia submitted that the committee will conduct a meeting to decide about everything. The court directed that the meeting be conducted as soon as possible and Jadhav's suggestions be considered in this meeting. The minutes of the meeting should be placed before the court within 4 weeks.
Justice Varale also remarked that it is ironic that the State paid tribute to Annabhau Sathe on the same day as the publication of the Loksatta article. He said he wanted to bring to the government's attention that Sathe's writings should also be published.
Case No. – SMP/1/2021
Case Title – High Court on Its Own Motion v. State of Maharashtra
Coram – Justice Prasanna Varale and Justice Kishore Sant