Why the Allahabad High Court cannot be renamed instantly

Why the renaming of Allahabad High Court cannot be done instantly
The Allahabad High Court is the country's largest high court with a strength of 160 judges. File photo

Expectedly the Uttar Pradesh government has changed the name of Allahabad - where Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers mingle - as Prayagraj, fulfilling a poll promise made by the BJP. The Adityanath government has brushed aside the view that Allahabad is not a Muslim name, but a corruption of Illahabad, named after a local goddess Iladevi. The change comes ahead of the once-in-12 years Maha Kumbh Mela, which is held on the sprawling grounds around the Sangam, where the rivers mingle. The BJP has been promising to remove Mughal and British colonial names of cities and streets. The Maharashtra government is now considering reverting the name of Aurangabad to Devagiri, as it says Mughal emperor Aurangazeb named the conquered Yadava city after himself. Already Delhi's Aurangzeb Road has been renamed after former president A P J Abdul Kalam, even though the narrow Aurangzeb Lane has escaped the renaming spree.

The move of the Adityanath government has to be endorsed by the Union government, as it means changing the name in survey maps, postal codes, railway communication and airport call signs. But with a supportive government at the centre, the changes would happen quickly. However, the name of the country's largest high court cannot be changed easily, as it requires approval of both Houses of Parliament. while government has full majority in Lok Sabha, major opposition parties have expressed their opposition to the name change, which they say is arbitrary and motivated, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The Allahabad High Court, the country's largest high court with a strength of 160 judges, is among seven high courts which take their names from a city, while the rest of the 18 high courts are named after states. It is also one of the four oldest high courts, set up in 1860s, along with high courts in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, which were established in areas directly under British rule, soon after the British Queen Victoria took charge of the colony from the East India Company.

Despite independence and changes in jurisdictional areas, these four high courts have retained the same names for more than 150 years. Two other city-named high courts are Patna and Gauhati high courts. Interestingly, Allahabad focuses only on Uttar Pradesh and Patna on Bihar, whereas other four have more than one state or union territory under their jurisdiction. Bombay High Court takes care of Maharashtra, Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Madras High Court covers Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, while Calcutta High Court covers Bengal, as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The youngest city-based high court is the High Court of Judicature of Hyderabad covering Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, created in 2004 after the division of Andhra Pradesh. Earlier it was called the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The Punjab and Haryana High Court which covers Punjab and Haryana has both the names in its title.

Why the renaming of Allahabad High Court cannot be done instantly
The Uttar Pradesh government has changed the name of Allahabad as Prayagraj. File photo

Though the names of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta have been officially changed to Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, respectively, more than a decade ago, the government delayed moving a law for changing the names, as there was strong resistance from the judges of the three high courts to change the name. Finally in 2016, the Narendra Modi cabinet approved a bill to change the names of the three high courts, but rejected demands that they should be called High Courts of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal respectively. The centre had argued that these high courts covered not just one state. But the Tamil Nadu government had argued that Kerala High Court, though having the state's name, was in charge of both Kerala and Lakshadweep. Even though name of Assam capital is Dispur, which is within Guwahati, the high court is still named as Gauhati High Court.

Interestingly, the name Allahabad High Court was given 99 years ago by the King of England. Earlier from 1866 to 1919 it was known as the High Court of North-Western Provinces.

The High Court of Oudh based at Lucknow was merged into the High Court of Allahabad in 1947 following the creation of the state of Uttar Pradesh. The proposal to change the name of Allahabad High Court to Prayagraj may be added to the parliamentary bill to change the names of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta high courts, but as there is likely to be only two sessions of the present Lok Sabha, including the budget session, the name changing of high courts may have to await the new Lok Sabha.

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