A Supreme Court full bench yesterday upheld a High Court verdict that declared illegal the government circulars and gazette notifications fixing the minimum age of freedom fighters at 12 and a half years in 1971.
A four-member bench of the SC’s Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain passed “no order” on a government petition seeking a stay on the HC judgment.
The apex court’s “no order” means the HC verdict will remain in force, writ petitioners’ counsel ABM Altaf Hossain told The Daily Star.
He, however, said the government could move a leave-to-appeal petition before the Appellate Division against the HC verdict after receiving full text of its judgment.
During yesterday’s hearing, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam appeared for the government and told the court that many people, who were below 12 and a half years old during the Liberation War, would get benefits as freedom fighters from the government if the HC verdict remained effective.
Lawyer Altaf told the SC that the historic speech delivered by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the then Racecourse Maidan on March 7, 1971, which has been protected by the constitution of the republic, had urged all the people of Bangladesh irrespective of caste, creed, age and religion to fight the battle against Pakistani occupation force and it had not fixed any age of freedom fighters.
Following the same government petition, the SC chamber judge on June 19 this year did not interfere in the HC verdict that declared illegal the government circulars and gazette notifications.
Chamber Judge of the Appellate Division Justice Md Nuruzzaman also sent the petition to the full bench of the apex court for its hearing yesterday.
Following 15 writ petitions filed by several freedom fighters, the HC on May 19 declared illegal and unconstitutional the circulars and gazette notifications, which fixed the minimum age of freedom fighters at 12 and a half years in 1971.
According to the gazette notification issued on January 17 last year by the liberation war affairs ministry, people who were aged at least 12 and a half years on November 30, 1971, would be eligible to apply for the status of a freedom fighter.
In November 2016, the ministry issued a circular and gazette notification imposing the minimum age of freedom fighters at 13 on March 26, 1971.
The government has so far changed the definition of freedom fighters 10 times and their list six times since the country’s independence. A scrutiny of the war heroes’ list is currently underway again.
On May 19, the HC in a verdict said the definition of freedom fighters was determined by the President’s Order 94 of 1972. It can only be changed by parliament, not by a circular or gazette.
The President’s Order 94 of 1972 does not allow the government to fix or re-fix the age of freedom fighters, the HC said.