Calcutta HC Lawyers Strike Entering 15th Day Is Shocking

Coming straight to the key issue, the ‘cease work’ by lawyers at the Calcutta High Court entered the 15th day on March 5 even though initially they had decided to go on just five day strike.  Let me begin at the very beginning by pointing out that lawyers don’t enjoy going on strike. It is only when they feel that it should be used as a last resort do they finally take the unpalatable decision of going on strike. Why does Centre allow the situation to drift to such an abysmal level that the lawyers are left with just no option but to go on strike?

                                        It merits no reiteration that Kolkata High Court is the oldest High Court in India and commands world wide respect for its members conducting themselves always with elegance which has few parallels! But now Calcutta High Court is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Nearly 10,000 lawyers of three lawyers association at the Calcutta High Court had decided to go on a five-day-long cease work from Monday which extended to 15th day in protest against the severe shortage of Judges at the court and Centre taking no effective step to address it.

                                           Who is responsible for this deadlock? Centre! Who is ensuring that Judges vacancies are not filled up in Calcutta High Court? Centre! Who is ensuring that even if lawyers of Calcutta High Court go on strike, it has to be ensured that vacancies don’t get filled up? Again it is none other than the Centre itself!

                                            It is most disconcerting to note that instead of its strength at 72 Judges, the Calcutta High Court has currently has only 29 Judges. This despite the fact that more than 2.20 lakh cases were pending before the Calcutta High Court as of January 31, 2018.  Should we all be proud of it?

                                                  No doubt, the shortage of Judges was a key reason behind the increasing number of pending cases in court. A lawyer of Calcutta High Court rightly said that, “The Judges are overburdened here and it is extremely difficult for them to dispose of such a large number of pending cases.”   Should Centre feel proud that it has ensured that more than half the vacancies about 43 are just lying vacant? Should all Indians feel excited about it?

                                    Why Centre is not just prepared to create more benches even though the 230th report of Law Commission made nearly 10 years ago in 2009 had strongly recommended the creation of more high court benches all over India? Why since last 4 years when NDA came to power has it ensured that not a single bench of High Court is set up in any hook and corner of India? Should we be proud of it?

                                      Of course, just one bench till now and that too circuit bench has been approved in Kolhapur in Maharashtra for just 6 districts but again for that the credit goes not to Centre but to State CM Devendra Fadnavis who in 2015 itself had assured the lawyers of Bar of Bombay and Goa that two benches would be created at Kolhapur and Pune!

                                  What has Centre done till now of its own initiative? Just nothing! The lawyers of West UP have been on strike on February 15, then again on February 17, then again on February 19, then again on February 20, then again on February 20, then again on February 21, then again on February 22 and shall be on strike on February 23, then again on February 24 and this will continue till February 26! Why is Centre not doing anything to address this long pending issue once and for all?

                                             Why Nehru created a high court bench in Lucknow which is so close to Allahabad on July 1 in 1948 but till 2018 not a single bench has been set up in West UP due to which people accounting for half of the UP population are compelled to travel whole night about 700 km all the way to Allahabad? Why no other PM has dared to ever create a bench at any other place in such a large state like UP especially in West UP which owes for more than 52% of pending cases or in Bundelkhand in Jhansi or in Gorakhpur as its MP Yogi Adityanath who is now UP CM raised it inside Parliament in 1998 or in Varanasi which is PM Modi’s constituency or at any other place? Why only a single bench for UP so close to Allahabad at Lucknow only and no other place?

                                           Why when Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is the tallest leader of the present NDA government in Centre himself demanded in 1986 right inside Parliament that West UP must have its own high court bench still more than 32 years later why Centre has taken no action on it? Why lawyers of West UP had gone on strike for 3 months even in 2014-15 when this NDA government had assured to look into it has nothing been done to address it? Why lawyers of West UP went on strike for 6 months in 2001 from July to December but again Centre did just nothing? Why lawyers of West UP since last more than 36 years from May 1981 till now have been on strike every Saturday and many times even on Wednesday still why no high court bench has been created here? Why UP has highest number of pending cases, highest population, maximum MPs, maximum MLAs etc yet has least benches in India and West UP which accounts for more than half of the pending cases has none even though Justice Jaswant Singh Commission had in 1980s recommended 3 high court bench to be created here? Centre must answer!

                                      Centre will say as it does say that creation of a high court bench is a complex procedure which must involve recommendation of the concerned Chief Justice and then approval from State Government and then Centre can do something! Centre can also cite that Allahabad High Court Bar does not favour more benches but what about appointing more Judges? Why more than half of the seats in Allahabad High Court are lying vacant?

                                         Definitely it is not Allahabad Bar which says that don’t fill up the vacancies! Centre itself does not want to fill these vacancies for reasons known best to it which only contributes to further piling up of the pending cases! This is what is exactly happening even in Calcutta High Court!

                                 Three Judges have retired in Calcutta High Court in February. But Centre is just not keen at all in appointing more Judges and more than 2 lakh cases are pending before the High Court! What is Centre’s real intention? It must specify! It cannot keep quiet!

                                             Why no news channel ever discusses it? Instead the senseless debates on Karni Sena etc occupy prime time shows! Shameful!

                                             It is with a very heavy heart that Uttam Majumdar who is President of Bar Association of Calcutta High Court lamented that, “We are left with no choice but to go on a five-day long cease work from Monday. The Centre has failed to take any action to fill up the vacancies of Judges at the Calcutta High Court.” Centre is wholly responsible for this deadlock which was certainly avoidable! Centre cannot just keep on waxing eloquent and keep citing one excuse or the other for not appointing Judges in different High Courts all across the country!

                                        Why talk just about Calcutta High Court alone? Things in Odisha High Court are also pretty much the same! Even the lawyers here are also on strike since February 12 in protest against the shortage of Judges! Satyabrata Mohanty who is Secretary of Odisha High Court Bar Association said that, “Along with hunger strike, the ceasework agitation will also continue. Lawyers will boycott court proceedings till February 23.” The Bar Association said that on February 23 a special meeting will be convened in which further course of action will be decided. The Odisha High Court Bar Association has alleged that since 2015, there has been no appointment of Judges in Odisha High Court. There are only 16 Judges as against the sanctioned strength of 27 Judges!

                                   Why is Centre making a mockery of our legal system? Why are Judges not being appointed in all the High Courts where vacancies are pending and lying vacant? Why are lawyers of Calcutta High Court and Odisha High Court compelled to go on strike to ensure that Centre pays some attention on this pivotal issue also?

                                        Why is Centre still so lackadaisical in its approach? Should we be proud of it? Why did Centre allow so many vacancies to be not filled up in time?

                                          Why is Centre not speaking up on such a serious issue? Why Centre is so casual in its approach? Centre has just no option but to act now and make its stand known to the people who are fed up by the Centre’s inaction on such a vital issue involving Judges who decide the fate of millions of litigants but whose posts are not being filled up by Centre!

                                                I am shocked, disgusted and appalled to see how Centre is treating such a sensitive issue with such a complete sense of insensitivity! Centre must act now and address the legitimate grievances of the lawyers of Calcutta High Court and Odisha High Court as also of all those High Courts where vacancies similarly are lying vacant in large numbers! This must be done immediately on a war footing so that lawyers can return back to work as early as possible! It is the litigants who are the worst affected especially the undertrials! Centre must have some pity on them!

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,

s/o Col BPS Sirohi,

A 82, Defence Enclave,

Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,

Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.