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Blanket ban but Bengal bends

Dec. 17: Handing West Bengal an opportunity to turn up the heat on striking lawyers, the Supreme Court today ruled in an unrelated case that advocates across the country had no right to stop work.

But the state government, which initially cited the apex court verdict and asked the lawyers to return to the courts, indicated that the chief minister had promised to “favourably consider” a decrease in certain fees.

If the government makes good its promise, it will be the second rollback in the fee structure after the strike, which has crossed a month. The fee hike in some categories were partially rolled back last week through an amendment Bill.

As soon as the Supreme Court held strikes by lawyers illegal and laid down a series of guidelines (see chart above), state law minister Nisith Adhikari asked the striking advocates to resume work “immediately”. “Otherwise, they stand the risk of showing contempt to the apex court’s order,” he said at Writers’ Buildings.

Adhikari later disclosed in the Assembly chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s willingness to reduce fees further and made another offer of talks.

The law minister said Bhattacharjee had given “assurances” to waive the attendance fee (of Rs 10) and would not mind “reconsidering” some aspects of the hike. However, confused by the mixed signals — CPM state secretary Anil Biswas, too, asked advocates to go back to the court immediately — lawyers said they would continue with their original programme (ceasework till Friday) but were ready for talks with the government “anytime, anywhere”. The lawyers’ representatives are scheduled to hold a meeting on Thursday.

Bar Council of India executive committee member Ashok Deb and West Bengal Bar Council executive committee chairman Uttam Majumdar said lawyers would observe kala divas on Wednesday as planned.

The lawyers refused comment on the Supreme Court ruling, which came on the eve of a token strike by advocates across the country. The nationwide strike has been called to protest against the Legal Services Authorities (Amendment) Act, which provides for lok adalats in all public utility services departments of the government.

“We have not received a copy of the apex court’s verdict and so cannot comment off-hand on what the judges said,” Deb said.

 

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