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Court bowls work-culture bouncer

Calcutta High Court has expanded the scope of the debate on “work culture” by questioning the effectiveness of any order declaring a strike illegal unless citizens themselves defied the shutdown.

“What is the point in passing orders in a country where there is no work culture?” Chief Justice A.K. Mishra demanded on Friday, bemoaning the culture of strikes that Bengal has embraced.

He did not mention Bengal once but his statement struck a chord in this state of shutdowns and siesta.

Work culture, or the lack of it, in Bengal is also the pet peeve of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who never misses the opportunity to blame 34 years of Left rule for it.

Chief Justice Mishra, who was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Trinamul Minority Cell chairman Idris Ali against the Left-backed general strike on February 20, left it to the people ’s court to decide what should be done.

“It is for the common people to realise how these strikes disrupt their lives. Go to China…go to Japan to learn work culture,” he said.

Ali had moved the division bench of Chief Justice Mishra and Justice Jaymalya Bagchi for an order declaring the general strike called by 11 central trade unions illegal.

The original plan was for a 48-hour general strike from February 20 against the “anti-people policies of the UPA government”.

The second half of the proposed shutdown was later converted into an “industrial strike” with exemptions for public transport at the behest of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Sources said Bhattacharjee convinced the unions that February 21 being Bhasha Divas, a total shutdown wouldn’t find support.

Sources said Ali, a serial PIL specialist, had moved court against the proposed strike specifically to embarrass the Left Front.

“The court has admitted the petition and fixed February 14 as the date for the next hearing but Ali’s main objective seems to have been already defeated by the court taking a holistic view of shutdowns in general,” a veteran high court advocate said.

Chief Justice Mishra not only asked citizens to ponder the impact of strikes on their lives, he also prodded the legal fraternity to introspect.

“If we go by the law, even lawyers cannot cease work. But you (lawyers) also call strikes,” said Mishra, who took charge at Calcutta High Court on December 14 last year.

On his first day as chief justice, the bar association had stalled work to organise a felicitation for him. “Should we write that to honour a CJ, we will not work?” Chief Justice Mishra asked his colleagues during the felicitation.

On January 21, the bar association stalled work again to mark 150 years of the country’s oldest high court. The lawyers had tried to persuade the chief justice to declare a holiday but he declined to do so. While they stayed away from work, Chief Justice Mishra was in room number 1 trying to get some pending cases over with.

“The chief justice had decided to keep the court open but the lawyers stayed away from work and there was little he could do about it. So there is merit in his argument that an order declaring a strike illegal won’t help,” the veteran advocate said.

This isn’t the first instance of Calcutta High Court giving voice to the futility of passing an order without being able to enforce it.

In 2004, Justice Ajay Nath Roy had observed: “It does not make sense to pass orders against bandhs till the court is empowered to implement them.”

He was hearing a PIL against a bandh called by the then Left Front government.

“The court asks the state to implement an order against a bandh. But what can be done if the ruling party itself calls the bandh?” Justice Roy had said.