Calcutta, Nov. 12: Bengal’s 568 courts are staring at empty rooms.
For 10 days from tomorrow, the West Bengal State Bar Council that represents more than 52,000 lawyers has called a ceasework to protest against the “uncalled for” hike in court fees.
The lawyers will “review” the “situation” on November 21, but bar council officials said they did not rule out the possibility of the strike being extended.
In effect, the ceasework will last at least 12 days as November 22 is a Friday and most courts are usually closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
There have been no recent instances of such prolonged inactivity in the state’s courts except for the strike called by lawyers of Calcutta’s consumer courts in August-September.
Bar council president Amiya Kumar Chatterjee said the executive committee was “forced” to take the decision after the state government, through an Ordinance on November 6 that came into effect the very next day, increased court fees by two to five times.
“The mood among the members was very aggressive,” Chatterjee added.
Today, at a meeting attended by presidents and secretaries of 80 bar associations in the state — the others gave their consent verbally or in writing — speaker after speaker said the only alternative before lawyers was to go on strike.
Although the Supreme Court has taken away the right to strike from lawyers, bar council executive committee chairman Uttam Majumdar said the government’s “unprecedented” decision had left them with no other option.
Lawyers fear the “exorbitant” hike will force many litigants to bypass the legal system and, by extension, their fraternity, and opt for out-of-court settlements.
The fee for appeals, for instance, has been increased from Rs 100 to Rs 500 and that for writ petitions from Rs 107 to Rs 224. Probate and succession fees have been doubled to Rs 20,000.
At least 50 per cent of the courts — from Calcutta High Court to the lowest munsif courts — have already been in the grip of an undeclared ceasework since yesterday. They include all four of the city’s civil courts.
Law minister Nisith Adhikari called the strike “unfortunate” but insisted the hike was necessary.
“They could have, at least, discussed matters with me. I would have met them in my capacity of being a former bar council member,” he said.
But spokespersons for the bar council dismissed the minister’s words.
“The contempt with which they regard the legal community is evident from their not even consulting us and, till date, not even giving us a copy of the Ordinance,” Majumdar said.