Naveen Patnaik and Kapil Sibal
Bhubaneswar, Oct. 24: Chief minister Naveen Patnaik finds himself in a catch-22 situation following Union law minister Kapil Sibal’ s letter asking him to identify places for the location of the proposed permanent benches of the Orissa High Court in western and southern Odisha.
Sibal has also pointed out that consent of the chief justice of the state’s apex court was mandatory in the matter. Apart from the location, he has asked Naveen to specify the details of availability of land and other infrastructure.
On September 28, the chief minister had written a letter to the Centre urging it to initiate steps for establishment of high court benches in western and southern Odisha without obtaining the consent of the Orissa High Court’s chief justice. It also did not specify the exact location of the proposed benches.
“It will certainly be difficult for us to take a decision at this moment on the sites in view of division of opinion on the matter among lawyers,” said a senior BJD leader.
What has further compounded the problem for the state government is the decision of the co-ordination committee of western Odisha lawyers’ association to stick to its “No court, no vote” resolution that could cast a cloud over the proposed civic polls in the region.
“We will urge all bar associations, civil societies and political parties to boycott the poll for the 22 urban bodies scheduled to be held on November 22,” said a member of the co-ordination committee, Sureswar Mishra.
In August, the state election commission had postponed elections to civic bodies of the area including Sambalpur, Hirakud and Rourkela, due to the lawyers’ agitation for the establishment of a permanent bench of Orissa High Court.
Later, the lawyers suspended their agitation after Naveen wrote to the Centre recommending a separate high court bench for western Odisha. This had prompted the state election commission to notify municipal polls in the region.
The co-ordination committee today also issued a 15-day’s ultimatum to the state government asking it to send a comprehensive proposal specifying the location for setting up the bench with adequate land and other infrastructure.
Significantly, lawyers of the region are divided over the issue of location. Members of bar associations from Kalahandi, Rourkela, and Balangir had called on the chief minister and demanded that the bench be located in their respective regions.
Opinion on location of the bench in southern Odisha is also divided with as lawyers from Phulbani, Koraput and Ganjam demanding that the bench be set up in their areas.
The other issue that may cause embarrassment to the state government is Sibal’s insistence on the consent of the high court’s chief justice. Significantly, the high court had turned down Naveen’s plea for permanent benches at Sambalpur and Berhampur six years ago. It was on the basis of the verdict of the high court that Naveen’s recommendation was turned down by the then Chief Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly on December 4, 2007.
“Considering the judicial guidelines of the Supreme Court and also the unanimous view of this court, and its consistent decisions in the past, the full court is constrained to resolve that the recommendation made by you cannot be acceded to and the court turns it down,” Ganguly had said in his letter to the chief minister, who had suggested on November 8, 2007 that permanent benches be set up at Sambalpur and Berhampur “for making available speedy justice to the poor people residing in far flung areas of western and southern Odisha”.
The chief justice had also pointed out that the full court had rejected proposals for establishment of circuit court on January 23, 1991, March 6, 1997, December 6, 1999 and November 30, 2005.
Incidentally, the Orissa High Court Bar Association is still protesting against the government’s recommendation to the Centre for setting up benches of the court. They have also questioned the wisdom of the chief minister in making such a recommendation when Justice C.R. Pal Commission is yet to submit its report on the issue.
Additional reporting by Lalmohan Patnaik and Subrat Mohanty