The old Bar association building in Kutchery, Ranchi, which faces demolition. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Work at Ranchi civil courts remained suspended on Friday as 4,000 advocates demonstrated in front of the deputy commissioner's office against an order to demolish a British-era edifice in the heart of the capital where many of them had begun practice.
The lawyers staged a sit-in and shouted slogans for five hours from noon, but were unable to meet Manoj Kumar who later said he was merely acting on a state directive to free government land.
The district administration had, on May 13, issued the closed-circuit order to pull down the old Ranchi District Bar Association building on the civil court premises in Kutchery. Advocates recently got wind of the goings-on and decided to voice their protest.
President of the association Sambhu Prasad Agrawal said the old Bar building, which was established in 1888 under British India, was a heritage structure that needed conservation, not demolition. "At present, 1,000 advocates still use the building," Agrawal added.
Baneshwar Mahto (90), who has been practising in the Ranchi civil courts since 1965, echoed his colleague. "The old Bar building is a museum of memories. Many of us began practice here. We don't want it to be demolished," Mahto said, adding that a petition had been moved in Jharkhand High Court too.
Deputy commissioner Kumar said advocates were wrongly staking claim to the run-down building. "In 2007-08, the district Bar association was provided land for a new office. A new building was constructed too, but a section of advocates did not vacate their old workplace. On May 3, we received an order from the state revenue, registration and land reforms department to get the land vacated," he said.
Secretary (administration) of the Bar outfit Pawan Ranjan Khatri countered the deputy commissioner. "We filed a PIL in 2014, demanding status quo on the land where the old building exists because the new one does not have adequate space for all. The PIL was admitted and is still pending in court. A demolition order at this juncture is not justified. The PIL will be heard on May 24," Khatri said.
But, Kumar insisted that the Bar outfit had not intimated the district administration about any PIL being filed. "It should have informed us instead of staging demonstrations and ceasing court work," he said.
As lawyers and administrators bickered over a building, the common man suffered.
Madhu Munda, a resident of Bundu, had come to the court of judicial commissioner Fahim Kirmani to be examined as a prosecution witness. "But, the lawyer didn't show up. My four hours were wasted," he rued.
Manoj Kumar, who had come to register a case from Bero, had a similar grievance. "I had come to register a complaint case against a land encroacher, but my advocate was not present at his desk."
Kishun Mahto, who needed a certified copy of a court order delivered in a case of theft, said the advocate asked him to come back on Saturday.
Chief Justice P.K. Mohanty took cognisance of the matter after a section of advocates approached him. He asked the deputy commissioner to apprise him of the building's background. Kumar is learnt to have obeyed the order.