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Striking lawyers dig in heels

Calcutta, Nov. 30: A day after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee softened his stand on the court fee hike, lawyers rejected the government’s proposals and called for continuation of the ceasework till the Ordinance is revoked.

The West Bengal Bar Council, which is spearheading the agitation, is expected to endorse the decision at its meeting on Monday.

Amiya Chatterjee, chairman of the council, said: “We will decide on our next course of action on Monday on the basis of opinions expressed by the bar associations’ representatives. We have been informed that most of them are in favour of continuing the stir till the government agrees to put on hold the court fee hike.”

Only one of the 161 bar association representatives at today’s meeting felt that the lawyers should respond to Bhattacharjee’s plea to withdraw the agitation.

The rest opposed the idea. As many as 15 representatives even wanted to call a statewide bandh on the issue. The meeting decided to organise dharnas in front of the bar association offices at different courts on Monday and also proposed a “march to the Assembly” on December 10.

The CPM-controlled Democratic Lawyers’ Association has, however, decided to oppose the ceasework, lending a political dimension to the protests.

“Our members will attend court from Monday to ensure their normal functioning. That the ceasework has taken a political colour is evident from Trinamul Congress leader Pankaj Banerjee’s presence at the bar council’s meetings. Attempts are being made to deprive the people of their democratic rights on the plea of fighting the administration. We will resist this with all our might,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, vice-president of the association.

The chief minister had signalled a rethink on the court fee hike at his meeting with bar council representatives yesterday. He said the government was ready to include a provision of refunding the excess court fees — being collected now after the promulgation of an Ordinance — through a Bill during the winter session.

This is, of course, subject to a revision of the hike when the Ordinance comes up for discussion in the Assembly.

The second phase of the lawyers’ ceasework is scheduled to end on Tuesday. But bar association representatives feel it should continue till December 10 when a Bill, incorporating the court fee hike, will be placed in the Assembly. Chatterjee said lawyers intend to continue their protests in a democratic manner.

“We are hearing the grievances of the bar association members on the issue and will act according to their wishes. The bar council has no intention to impose any decision on them,” he said.

The state administration is worried about the overcrowding at subdivisional and district jails as no bail petitions can be moved in the absence of lawyers.

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