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Lawyers protest, litigants suffer

Cuttack/ Rourkela, April 5: Biswajit Ray, Pradip Kanhar and S.N. Prusty came to Cuttack from various parts of the state but on Tuesday they shared each others plight.

The trio, like hundreds of other litigants, returned from the courts disappointed. Work in courts across the state came to a standstill for the second successive day today as lawyers protested against police attack on a judicial magistrate in Rourkela on Saturday evening.

It was an agonising day for Ray and three other government doctors, who serve in rural areas of the state. The doctors had moved Orissa High Court to challenge the non-implementation of Medical Council of India (MCI) guidelines in the state. They had also sought a stay on counselling for admission to postgraduate courses in the three government medical colleges. After preliminary hearing last week, the court had issued notices to the state government and fixed hearing for today. Although counselling is scheduled to be held on April 8, the matter could not be taken up because of the strike by members of the Orissa High Court Bar Association.

Coming from far away Kandhamal, Kanhar and 19 others had expected the court to hear their plea for anticipatory bail. But the lawyers’ strike played spoilsport and the court could not hear their pleas since yesterday. Like Kanhar, Kandhamal resident Prusty had to return from the court disappointed. Sources said around 525 cases were listed for hearing today before different benches of the high court.The analogous hearing of seven PILs into the mining scam has been fixed for April 7. On March 29, the court had listed further hearing in the case for today.

While the lawyers struck work, the high court converted a letter petition into a PIL and directed the state government to clarify its position by tomorrow on the alleged “physical and mental torture” of Arun Kumar Patnaik, judicial magistrate (first class), Rourkela, by cops of Uditnagar police station in Rourkela.

Advocate D.N. Lenka, a member of the High Court Bar Association, had filed the letter petition yesterday. The two-judge bench of Chief Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice B.N. Mohapatra issued notices to the home secretary and superintendent of police, Rourkela, and fixed the hearing for tomorrow.

On its part, the High Court Bar Association passed a resolution demanding “immediate arrest of the suspended police officer and suspension of SP, Rourkela”.

Demanding that suspended inspector-in-charge of Uditnagar police station, Sadananda Pujari, be put behind bars, the lawyers also sought transfer of police chief Diptesh Patnaik.

Venting their anger, lawyers in Rourkela set tyres on fire to block the road in front of the local court. They also picketed outside government offices, forcing their closure.

Rourkela Bar Association president Ramesh Bal alleged that the SP had knowledge that Patnaik was being harassed at the police station. Bal said the conduct of the SP should be brought within the purview of the judicial probe and his transfer facilitated in the interest of a free and fair inquiry. The SP, however, declined to comment.

The Bar also accused the local police of bias. The Uditnagar police had registered a case against the magistrate on the basis of a counter FIR lodged against him. They then registered another FIR based on the complaint filed by the magistrate. While the magistrate had specifically named the inspector-in-charge of the police station, Sadananda Pujari, in his complaint, the FIR deliberately mentioned “unknown persons”, they alleged.

On the other hand, the Rourkela unit of Orissa Police Officers’ Association demanded immediate revocation of Pujari’s suspension describing it as “unilateral and unjustified”.

“If his suspension is not withdrawn forthwith, we will be compelled to cease work and paralyse the functioning of all police stations under the Rourkela police district,” said association secretary Bimbadhar Behera.

Lawyers in Sambalpur also boycotted courts expressing solidarity with lawyers in Rourkela.

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