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Allahabad High Court restrains Uttar Pradesh government from taking action against shopkeepers selling certain books

The Allahabad High Court has restrained the Education authorities of Uttar Pradesh from taking action against those shopkeepers, who sell books to be used for reference in the syllabus of Uttar Pradesh Board.

The Division Bench of Justice Manoj Misra and Justice Umesh Chandra Sharma passed this order, while hearing a petition filed by M/S Rajeev Prakashan And Company.

The petitioner is a firm, which carries the business of printing textbooks, including reference books on various subjects, which may be useful for courses for students of class IX onwards.

The petitioner said he was aggrieved by certain directions, which have been issued by Educational Authorities requiring book shops to keep only those text/course books, which have been approved by the Madhyamik Shiksha Parishad, Uttar Pradesh.

The petitioner said under Section 7 of UP Intermediate Act, 1921, the Board was empowered to prescribe courses of instructions, text-books, other books and instructional material, if any, for the High School and Intermediate classes in such branches of education as it thinks fit.

Further, the Board was empowered to publish or manufacture, whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of others or otherwise, all or any of such text-books, other books or instructional material. In exercise of that power, the Board has identified 67 NCERT books on 34 subjects as textbooks/instructional material for the classes IX onwards, noted the plea.

It said the copyright to publish these books has been acquired by the Board and licensed to three publishers, on concession of five percent as royalty fee.

The Board had issued a circular on July 6, 2022 addressed to all the District Inspector of Schools within the State of Uttar Pradesh to ensure that only those books were used in the institutions, which were recognised by the Board and to ensure that piracy/duplicacy of these books did not take place.

The grievance of the petitioner was that insofar as the directions contained in letter dated July 6, 2022 are concerned, they may be referable to the powers of the Board under Section 7 of the 1921 Act but the follow up action, which has been taken by district level education authorities such as District Inspector of Schools, is concerned, it goes to the extent of restraining the book shop keepers from keeping any text-book, other than those prescribed by the Board.

The contention of the counsel for the petitioner is that if there is a copyright violation or piracy or misrepresentation/ cheating that is an individual act for which proceeding can be undertaken under relevant provisions of law but there can be no general direction restraining a book shopkeeper not to keep any other text-book as students may use various other books as reference books to enrich their knowledge or to have clarity on the subject.

Further, such a direction would amount to violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution and affect the right to livelihood guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. It would also be against the doctrine of proportionality and, therefore, arbitrary.

The Court observed that the matter required consideration.

The Counsel for the respondents submitted that the petitioner was indulging in piracy and duplication of books of NCERT, of which the copyright has been acquired by the Board and licensed to the publishers, therefore, the directions issued by the District Inspector of School was only to ensure that there was no duplication/piracy of those books and the orders issued by the Board, which were referable to exercise of powers under Section 7 of the 1921 Act, were duly enforced.

It is also submitted that Board is empowered to prescribe text-book or course books for various courses which are conducted by the institutions under Board’s supervision pursuant to their recognition by the Board, therefore, the directions restraining duplicacy and piracy would not violate the fundamental right of the petitioner because there could be no fundamental right to violate copyright or to misrepresent to the public at large that the books published are approved or prescribed by the Board.

At this stage, the Court is not dealing with the direction issued by the Board to ensure that the course books/text-books of which the Board have acquired copyright and has provided license to print to publishers, mentioned above, as that order of the Board is not subject matter of challenge in this petition. The concern of the petitioner, at this stage, is in respect of the general direction issued by District Inspector of School, Mirzapur, wherein he has directed the authorities to ensure that no other text-book, other than those prescribed by the Board, be kept by the book shop keepers.

“Prima facie, such a direction does not appear to flow from the order of the Board dated July, 6th, 2022, because, the Board has issued directions to ensure that there is no piracy/duplicacy of the text-books which it has prescribed after taking their copyright from the NCERT and printing of which it has licensed to three publishers. Further, on our prima facie assessment, there could be no blanket prohibition in publication of text-books of authors which may be useful to students as reference books, though they can not be touted as course books or books prescribed/approved by the Board for the courses conducted by it”, the Court observed.

For the reasons above, the Court thinks it proper to call upon the respondents to file their respective counter affidavit, explaining their legal authority for issuing directions of the nature contained in the order dated 29.7.2022, passed by the District Inspector of School, Mirzapur.

The Court has fixed the matter for November 21, by which date the respondents shall file their counter affidavit in light of the observations above.

“Till the next date of listing, the respondents are restrained from taking action against shop keepers for keeping text books, which may be used as reference books for the courses conducted by the Board, provided those books do not hold out as course books or text-books prescribed by the Board and approved by the NCERT.

“It is further clarified that above direction shall not prevent an action against a person for violating copyright or on account of commission of any offence,” the Court ordered.

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