On Tuesday, when close to 25,000 lawyers were observing a ceasework in 202 courts across the state in response to a call by the state bar council, a member of the high court bar association was busy moving a petition demanding action against those who had called the strike.
A division bench, comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Tapen Sen, admitted the petition, to be heard on Wednesday. The state bar council was made a respondent in the case with petitioner Basabi Roy Chowdhury urging the high court to initiate contempt proceedings against the council’s executive committee members.
The petitioner contended that the state bar council members had violated a Supreme Court judgment (December 1998) barring lawyers from calling a strike or observing ceasework.
Tuesday was just another red-letter day among the 200-odd idle days in court. And it extended an already-long weekend for lawyers, as Monday was a Jagaddhatri puja holiday. Neither schools nor offices remain shut for Jagaddhatri puja.
“Lawyers enjoy the maximum number of holidays. Each year, there are 167 official holidays (including Saturdays and Sundays). Apart from these holidays, lawyers often stay away from court for various protests and petitions. For the sake of litigants, this should be stopped,” said Supradip Roy, a lawyer.
Nearly two lakh cases are pending in Calcutta High Court, while about 13 lakh cases await disposal in the lower courts of Bengal.
“Considering the problem of litigants due to the huge number of pending cases, court holidays should be curtailed and advocates should not be allowed to stay away,” said Sukumar Rout, a litigant stumped by the lack of lawyers in court on Tuesday.
“I came from Burdwan as my case was fixed for hearing. But now I will have to stay back in Calcutta and return to court on Wednesday,” he rued.
Among high-profile cases in queue at the high court are land acquisition in Singur, removal of hawkers from city pavements, vehicular pollution, the Birla-Lodha dispute and government’s appeal in the Oxytown murder.
Saradindu Biswas, advocate and former member of the bar council of India, said: “Vacations of high courts abroad often depend on the climatic conditions. The London courts enjoy two months off in winters... But courts in Europe and America enjoy only four or five festive holidays.”
The festive-holiday figure in Calcutta, over and above the three main annual vacations, is 18.