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Panel pours water on new bench cry

- Pal commission report baffles Naveen govt

Cuttack, June 6: The judicial commission, which was looking into the issue of setting up Orissa High Court benches in various parts of the state, appears reluctant towards the move.

The single-member judicial commission, headed by Justice C.R. Pal, has concluded that it is not expedient to set up a high court bench in view of the conflicting and rival demands by various bar associations in their respective regions, highly placed sources told The Telegraph.

The commission, which was appointed on March 11, 2008 to consider feasibility and desirability of high court benches outside the principal seat, has submitted its report after over six years. Sources said commission secretary Ajay Mohanty submitted the report to the state home department’s special secretary Lalit Das on May 31.

The recommendation against setting up of a high court bench other than its principal seat in Cuttack is cause enough for embarrassment for chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

On September 28 last year, Naveen sent a proposal to the Centre to set up permanent high court benches in west and south Odisha after civic elections were postponed due to agitation over the issue by lawyers in the western region. Naveen’s proposal prompted the central action committee of All Bar Associations of Western Odisha to suspend the agitation after 41 days.

The agitation, however, continued in the form of cease work by lawyers on the last two working days of every month. On the other hand, Naveen’s proposal triggered a protest strike by the Orissa High Court Bar Association, which had lasted for 51 days till November 16 last year.

On October 23 last year, the then Union law minister Kapil Sibal wanted to know from Naveen about “the specific location” of two high court benches proposed by him. Justice Pal panel’s report was expected to enable the state government to specify the locations to the Centre. But, the panel’s disinclination to recommend in favour of establishment of high court benches has apparently taken the wind out of the Naveen’s proposal.

The report was also expected to provide enough material for consideration of the proposal by the Centre and the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court.

On October 23 last year, Sibal had forwarded Naveen’s letter to the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court “to examine the case and send his views”.

Further action would be taken “as per the response from the high court”, the law minister had indicated in his reply to Naveen’s letter.

Earlier, the state government had made requests to the high court — five times from 1991 to 2007 — only to be turned down for lack of material for consideration.

In another development, the high court on March 12 issued orders to the state chief secretary and the director-general of police to clear hindrances for ingress and outgress of litigants and staff members at various courts in west Odisha, where lawyers are on strike.

A three-judge bench issued the order on a suo motu registered contempt case after the state counsel informed that courts were functioning but lawyers were still on strike in Sonepur, Sundargarh, Biramaharajpur and Bargarh.

The lawyers at other courts in the region were abstaining from work for two days in a month according to the committee’s decision.

The Justice Pal commission had questioned representatives of bar associations from Rourkela, Balangir, Kalahandi, Koraput, Berhampur, Phulbani, Mayurbhanj and Balasore.

The committee of all bar associations of west Odisha, which has been spearheading the agitation, had boycotted the commission through an affidavit.