In a first in its history, the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday allowed live streaming of proceedings in a case seeking entry of children born to Parsi women and non-Parsi men into a fire temple, a Zoroastrian place of worship, in the city. Seeking permission for live streaming of the proceedings, Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Calcutta (PZAC) lawyer Phiroze Edulji submitted before the court that the hearings in the case are of utmost importance to all Parsis in the country and that they would be benefitted from the outcome of the matter.
Facts of the case
The Parsi body is one of the parties in the petition by Prochy N Mehta and Sanaya Mehta Vyas who are seeking access to a fire temple at Metcalfe Street in the central part of the city. PZAC is opposed to it. The petition was moved by Mehta and Vyas before the High Court against Noshir N Tankariwala, Y J Dastoor and J S Billimoria, trustees of The Late Ervad Dhunjeebhoy Byramjee Mehta’s Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran Trust, who opposed their access to the fire temple. Their access to the fire temple was allegedly denied since they were born to a Parsi mother and a non-Parsi father, even if they were initiated to the religion through a ceremony. The date for the final hearing in the matter, live streaming of which was allowed by the court, has not yet been fixed. A single bench of the High Court had earlier disallowed the prayer for live streaming, following which an appeal on the issue was moved before the division bench.
The original petition seeking access to the fire temple will be heard before the single bench. Even though, in September 2018, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court set the stage for live-streaming of court proceedings in cases of Constitutional importance, the Apex Court had said during a hearing this month the issue would be dealt with by the Chief Justice of India on the administrative side.
The petitioner has sought live-streaming of the proceedings on the grounds that “a matter of national importance impacting the public at large, and Parsi Zoroastrians in particular, is being heard and decided”.
Efforts to have live- stream proceedings began back in 2018
The efforts to live-stream the court proceedings began in 2018. Pushing for greater transparency in the judicial system, a three-member Supreme Court bench had directed the Modi government in September 2018 to frame rules and build adequate infrastructure for live-streaming of nationally-important cases. Since then, the case has been heard multiple times by the Supreme Court, and the Modi government is still working on the modalities. On 4 February, the Supreme Court said that the issue related to the implementation of the 2018 verdict allowing live-streaming of constitutionally important cases would be dealt with by the Chief Justice of India on the administrative side. The SC also stated that rules would be framed for this and the said project will be accordingly carried out in phases. In the Parsi woman’s case, however, the Calcutta High Court has set a precedent in showing the way forward. The court said the modalities would be decided by the registrar of the original side, said advocate Phiroze Edulji, the petitioner’s counsel. “These proceedings are of utmost importance to the Parsi Community all over the country and hence the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Kolkata had prayed for live-streaming so that there can be access to justice,” added Edulji.
“The Supreme Court decides on its orders, the high courts decide on theirs. There is no correlation,” said a renowned advocate of Calcutta High Court who did not want to be named. “The Supreme Court takes its own call and the High Court take their own except on orders that are binding on a High Court concerned. Moreover, this particular order is based on SC’s 2018 judgment.” Retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Ashok Ganguly said, “The High Courts are not subordinate to the Supreme Court. The SC is just an appellate forum of the HCs. HCs can take decisions independently.”
Cost of live streaming
“The court said as the case will have ramifications across India, it should be streamed live. The court also said that the Association, which wants it to be streamed live, will bear the entire cost,” Phiroze Edulji, the lawyer represented the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Kolkata, told journalists. As per the arrangement suggested by the court, two cameras will be installed. These will be integrated for live-streaming on YouTube.
Mr. Edulji said that it is was the first instance of live-streaming of a hearing being allowed in Bengal. The main petition will be heard by the court of Justice Debangshu Basak.
The 2018 judgment of the Apex Court said that a specified category of cases, especially those of constitutional and national importance being argued for final hearing before the Constitution Bench can be live streamed as a pilot project. In the Calcutta case, the issue before the court is whether children born to a Parsi woman and a non-Parsi man can be allowed inside a fire temple. The appeal for live streaming of the case was made before the division bench after a single bench rejected the prayer.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje