The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government on a petition of Public Interest Litigation challenging the Yogi government’s decision to rename the city of Allahabad to its ancient name Prayagraj.
Issue: The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government after hearing a plea filed by a petitioner challenging the validity of Allahabad’s name being changed to Prayagraj. The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Uttar Pradesh government on a PIL filed by the Allahabad Heritage Society challenging the decision to rename the city of Allahabad to Prayagraj. The appeal, besides challenging the notification of the UP government in this regard, has also alleged procedural violations in renaming the holy city. Also, the plea moved to rename the city is contrary to the secular ethos of the Constitution and hence runs contrary to the spirit of composite culture.
Quorum: A bench, comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, issued notice to the state government on an appeal filed by the society against the Allahabad High Court order of February 2019 dismissing the PIL against the renaming of the holy town.
Renaming of Allahabad: In October 2018, the Yogi Adityanath-led government had officially renamed the historic city of Allahabad as Prayagraj. The decision was taken by the state cabinet presided over by the chief minister. On 1 January 2019, a fortnight ahead of the ‘Kumbh Mela’, the Centre had approved the renaming of Allahabad as Prayagraj as sought by the Uttar Pradesh government. The move came under heavy criticism from the Opposition, scholars, and historians who said the government is tampering with history.
Historic Background: Allahabad got its name in 1575. The Mughal Emperor Akbar called it Illahabas, meaning the abode of God. Before Akbar rechristened the city, it was known as Prayag. Some medieval texts, including Akbar’s court historian Abul Fazl, called it Prayag. The Rig Veda and some of the Puranas mention it, giving it a high religious value in India. Called Prayag before the Mughals came in, Allahabad got its name from 16th Century Mughal emperor Akbar who renamed it after founding a fort near the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna, known as Sangam. He named the fort and its neighborhood Allahabad. Later, Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan renamed the entire city as Allahabad. But the area near the Sangam, site of the Kumbh Mela, continues to be called Prayag. The governor and the Centre have both given their approval and the Uttar Pradesh government plans to roll out the changes ahead of 2019 Kumbh Mela.
Proceedings: The high court had observed that a mere name change of the city will not affect the public interest and moreover, it cannot interfere with the policy decision of the government. The Allahabad High Court had in February 2019 rejected the plea by the Allahabad Heritage Society and others to have it set aside on the ground that it was beyond the powers of the state.
Justification of the order of the High Court: The High Court justified its order saying that it was a policy decision by the state.
“The material placed before us giving the reasons for a change of name by the state government cannot be said to be without basis, and the same clearly reflects a policy decision of the state government,” the High Court had said.
“… the petitioners have not been able to place on record any material to demonstrate that the decision taken in this regard is wholly unreasonable, arbitrary and is based on irrelevant considerations, or that the same is violative of any constitutional or statutory provision, so as to bring the same within the parameters of the limited scope of judicial review in such matters,” it said.
There is also nothing on record to demonstrate as to how the larger public interest would be affected by a mere change of name, the court observed.
The contention of the State: Defending its move, the Uttar Pradesh government had said that the renaming was a “long-standing demand” of the people. In an official statement, the government said that there was a ‘delusion’ that the city was always called Allahabad.