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Shalishi stamp in hand, CM waits

Calcutta, April 16: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today reiterated that he wants an all-party consensus on the implementation of the Shalishi Bill, though the Union law minister virtually stamped his approval for the state government to introduce it.

The Block-Level Pre-litigation Conciliation Board Bill seeks to settle minor disputes at the block-level boards instead of litigants approaching courts. There has been more than one unsuccessful attempt to pass the bill in the Assembly.

The Trinamul Congress, which has stridently protested against the bill, believes its implementation would help the ruling Left Front induct its own people in village-level conciliatory bodies. Lawyers in the state are also opposed to it.

However, the chief minister, aware of the Opposition's reservations, today told a seminar on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Salt Lake that the bill, being a 'sensitive issue', needed the consensus of all parties.

Bhattacharjee said: 'Against this backdrop, we must think of a way to remove such apprehensions.'

But Union law minister H.R. Bhardwaj, who was also at the seminar ' jointly organised by the state judicial department and the Union law ministry ' was all appreciation for the state government's move.

'It is good that the state government has chalked out a plan for ADR. If the system of a pre-litigation conciliation board is introduced, the number of pending cases all over the state will come down,' the Union minister said.

He criticised a section of lawyers, saying that 'some of them came to me to lodge complaints against the state government for its initiative in introducing the bill'.

'But I advised them to leave the path of tussle and to cooperate with the state government in this matter.'

Bhardwaj said minor village disputes should not reach courts. 'Settling of disputes by conciliation boards would be more cost-effective for litigants'.'

Judges of the Supreme Court, Justices Tarun Kumar Chatterjee and Ashok Kumar Mathur, the former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, Justice A.M. Bhattacharya, also appreciated the state's move.

But Trinamul MLA Kalyan Banerjee came down heavily on the law minister. 'Who is he to criticise the lawyers' Before making such comments on the issue, he should realise the plights of common villagers here who are fed up with the ruling party,' Banerjee said.

Bhardwaj's praise for the state's stand has, however, put the state Congress in an embarrassing situation as it has already extended support to the state Bar Council and the West Bengal Lawyers' Association in its agitation against the bill.

West Bengal Lawyers' Association, the largest body of advocates in the state, was not invited to the seminar. 'It is unfortunate that the authorities did not bother to allow us to express our views, possibly because we are opposing the bill,' alleged Uttam Majumdar, general secretary of the association.

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