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CJ asks: To honour, why stop work?

Calcutta, Dec. 14: The city of felicitations and siesta was treated to a gentle wake-up call today.

“Should we write that to honour a CJ, we will not work?” Justice Arun Kumar Mishra, who was sworn in chief justice of Calcutta High Court today, asked members of the bar this afternoon.

Justice Mishra was preparing to head to Court No. 1 to resume work after the lunch break at the country’s oldest high court when he got a letter from the bar association requesting him to be present at a felicitation, according to court sources. The programme was being organised at the auditorium of the Sesquicentenary building.

The newly appointed chief justice accepted the request from the biggest body of lawyers in Calcutta High Court and proceeded to the venue.

During his 20-minute speech, Justice Mishra said with utmost decorum: “A couple of lines in the letter sent to me (from the bar association) could have been avoided, according to me…. Should we write that to honour a CJ, we will not work?”

Justice Mishra suggested he had reservations about the manner in which he was invited to the felicitation. “Today, the request for this honour came at 2pm and that too without consulting me. It was an order… Yes, it was an order.”

When Justice Mishra spoke, over 1,500 members of the bar were present at the new auditorium on the top floor of the 10-storey building opposite the west gate of the Assembly.

Skipping court for various programmes — ranging from mourning the death of bar members to felicitating judges — is a recurring theme. As lawyers stay away after a sudden decision by the bar association for not attending courts, the judges cannot hear the cases.

Some senior lawyers The Telegraph spoke to said that such programmes were mostly organised in Calcutta and the tendency among lawyers to skip court was resulting in hardship for ordinary citizens and adding to the delay in resolution of cases.

“There is no harm in organising programmes but the bar association should hold them beyond the court hours so that precious time is not lost,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, a senior advocate.

The practice of holding programmes during office hours is not restricted to the high court. The state secretariat hosts such programmes every other day as chief minister Mamata Banerjee presides over birthday celebrations or commemoration of death anniversaries of a pantheon of luminaries.

“These programmes last around 45 minutes during which the chief minister and others place flowers and pay tributes to the luminaries. Short cultural programmes are also held… all these affect flow of work,” said a senior government official.

Although Mamata had vowed to change the work culture in the state, the government has not made any attempt to hold such programmes beyond office hours.

In his maiden public address, Justice Mishra, who was the chief justice of Rajasthan High Court before coming to Calcutta, made it clear that he would try his best to nurture a healthy work culture.

“I am here to work for development. Common citizens are the worst sufferers of delay in justice…. There are over 3.6 lakh cases pending in the high court while the figure is over 26 lakh in subordinate courts across Bengal. The lawyers have to come forward for speedy disposal of pending cases,” Justice Mishra said.

According to the Supreme Court’s guidelines, the high courts should have at least 162 working days a year. Although the court calendar maintains the apex court guidelines, in reality, the number is never reached as bar associations often decide to skip courts and lawyers sometimes cease work.

Other than all Saturdays and Sundays, the courts remain closed during the 15-day summer vacation, 30-day Puja vacation, 12-day Christmas vacation and on all other public holidays.