Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR Law University, Hyderabad
Advocate and alumnus of NALSAR
Yogi Adityanath has not only changed his own name (Ajay Mohan Bisht) but his revulsion to Muslim names has also led to the change of names of localities in Gorakhpur, such as Urdu Bazar to Hindi Bazar, Miapur to Mayapur, Humayunpur to Hanuman Nagar. The BJP's goal is to change the names of 704 towns named after Mughals. Union Minister VK Singh wants to rename Akbar Road in New Delhi though Akbar was a liberal and pro-Hindu king.
The change of name as a result of state reorganisation or in recognition of name or spelling in the local language for a city is one thing. But the change to erase historic legacy and the contribution of a section of society is different. The former is restoration of ethnic pride and the latter may qualify as cultural genocide.
Names changed over years
The change of names of states as a result of state reorganisation in 1956, like Travancore-Cochin to Kerala, Madhya Bharat to Madhya Pradesh in 1959, Madras State to Tamil Nadu in 1969 and Mysore State to Karnataka in 1973 were widely appreciated as these changes were in tune with the state reorganisation on linguistic lines. Orissa was changed to Odisha in 2011. The change in the name of states under Article 4 requires a constitutional amendment.
Some cities were restored their indigenous names. Bombay was changed to Mumbai and Madras to Chennai. In some cases, spellings were changed, ie Cawnpore to Kanpur in 1948, Calcutta to Kolkata (2001), Pondicherry to Pondicherry (2006), Bangalore to Bengaluru (2007).
No-objection from MHA must
Under the Constitution, though 'land' is a state subject and state governments have power to change the names of cities, 'no objection' from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is mandatory, which can be issued only when directions of the MHA, issued in 1953 and modified in 2005, are complied with.
The procedure to be followed is that the local/state government will give its proposal for alteration in name to the MHA which will evaluate if it is in sync with its guidelines and consult several agencies, like the Intelligence Bureau, Department of Posts, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Railways, Department of Posts, Survey of India and Registrar-General of India. After this, the MHA may grant 'no-objection' to the government. The MHA's concurrence, thus, is a must.
Guidelines for renaming
The 1953 guidelines issued by the MHA acknowledged that it was receiving many requests from state governments to rename villages, towns, etc. After examining them, the Government of India said:
Firstly, unless there is some very special reason, it is not desirable to change a name which people have got used to.
Secondly, the names of villages etc having a historical connection should not be changed as far as possible.
Thirdly, a change should not be made merely on grounds of local patriotism or for linguistic reasons, eg villages, towns etc should not be renamed after national leaders merely to show respect to them or for satisfying local sentiment in the matter of language etc. (An exception can be made in the case of martyrs, whereby the name can suitably be added to the name of a place sought to be changed, if a request is made by the state government and there is general recognition of the role of the martyr).
Fourthly, in selecting new names, care should be taken to see that there is no village or town etc of the same name in the state and neighbourhood, which might lead to confusion.
Finally, while recommending any change, the state government should furnish detailed reasons for proposing the change in the name and also for selecting the new name.
In Uttar Pradesh, the previous governments were applying Section 11 of the UP Land Revenue Act, 1901 which dealt with the creation/abolition of districts and altering the limits of districts, cities, villages. The government also used this provision to rename towns and districts. Since there were no guidelines for the exercise of powers under Section 11, the Allahabad High Court in the case Ram Milan Shukla v State of Uttar Pradesh (1999) held that administrative power must be exercised on relevant considerations and to bring transparency, the government must disclose compelling administrative, political and economic compulsions before arriving at its decisions. The court quashed the notification issued by the state government for the creation of new districts.
The observations are important as the intent of the judgement was to curtail arbitrary exercise of power at the whims and fancies of CMs. These observations read with the MHA guidelines harmoniously point to the idea that unless there are compelling and special reasons, the alteration with revenue areas is not to be done. The Bombay High Court in Mohammed Mushtaq Ahmad (1996) boldly observed that these name changes don't serve any public purpose and are merely a tool of political mileage.
One can make an argument that combined reading of the new Section 6(2) read with proviso, the applicability of proviso on inviting public objections may not be extended to mere alteration of name but keeping in mind the principles of participatory democracy, the argument of not recognising the opinion of residents/voters/citizens of the area is not sustainable. Moreover, the grounds for giving residents/voters/locals more say in the process can be found when the rules framed under the Act are also taken into account. Rules 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the UP Revenue Code Rules, 2016 along with RC Form-1 stipulate that the state government shall give a notice even when the limit of a revenue area is being changed through alteration of name.
In changing the name of Allahabad, these rules were not complied with. In Maharashtra, Aurangabad's name could not be changed to Shambhaji Nagar for non-compliance with inviting the provision of public objections.
When proposals were rejected
Interestingly, the proposal to change the name of Allahabad was earlier mooted in 2001, when the then Chief Minister Rajnath Singh had sent a proposal to the Home Ministry. The Minister of State for Home Affairs of the Vajpayee government said on the floor of the Lok Sabha (July 24, 2001) that the UP Government's proposal did not fit in the criteria set by the MHA and hence they should reconsider their proposal keeping in view the guidelines framed by the Ministry. Today, Rajnath Singh himself is Union Home Minister and, therefore, he may approve the change and overlook MHA guidelines. But since guidelines have not changed, such a concurrence to name change will be contrary to the MHA's own guidelines.
Similarly, the Vajpayee government did not agree to the change of names of Ahmedabad and Bhopal. But the Modi government, in the last one year, has agreed to some 25 name change requests, though, to the embarrassment of Mamata Banerjee, it has put its foot down on changing the name of West Bengal to Bangla.
The UP Government's notification under Section 6(2) of the Revenue Code, 2006 renaming Allahabad as Prayagraj is thus not only arbitrary and ill motivated but also in violation of the MHA rules.
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Parida joined the UT Administration on December 26, 2018