One month on, strike to continue

Lawyers of Calcutta High Court have decided to continue till April 12 their cease-work, which completed a month on Monday.

By Our Bureau
  • Published 20.03.18
HOUSE OF LAW: Calcutta High Court on February 21, a few days after the lawyers’ strike began. (PTI picture)

Calcutta/New Delhi: Lawyers of Calcutta High Court have decided to continue till April 12 their cease-work, which completed a month on Monday.

The lawyers have ceased work demanding that vacancies for 42 judges be filled immediately. The number of vacancies in Calcutta High Court, which has a sanctioned strength of 72 judges, is among the highest in the country.

Representatives of the Bar Association, the largest body of high court lawyers, had met Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra in Delhi last week.

Amal Kumar Mukherjee, secretary of the Calcutta High Court Bar Association, said: "Both the Chief Justice and the Union law minister had assured us that our demand would be met soon and requested us to withdraw the cease-work. At Monday's meeting, we have told our members about the assurances but the majority of them were not ready to withdraw the agitation simply on the basis of assurances."

He said a general body meeting would be held on April 3.

On February 19, when the cease-work started, the number of judges in the court was 27. Three new judges have joined since then.

But three judges will retire this year and another is likely to be transferred. The total strength of judges will then come down to 26, said Uttam Majumdar, president of the Bar Association. He added the majority of the members wanted to continue with the agitation till at least 20 more judges were appointed.

On February 19, around 3.5 lakh cases were pending."More than 600 cases are disposed of daily at Calcutta High Court. Thousands of cases have piled up," said a court officer.

Judicial sources in Delhi attributed the large number of vacancies to a "cold war" and an "intransigent stand" of the Narendra Modi government. Relations between the executive and the judiciary had come under strain in 2015 when the Supreme Court quashed a mechanism that was intended at replacing the collegium system for choosing and transferring judges.

The posts of over 400 judges are vacant in various high courts in the country now. The Supreme Court collegium had sent as many as 250 names to the Centre over the past 12 to 15 months. More than 20-25 names were recommended for Calcutta High Court.

The sources said several of these files were pending with the Centre.

However, law ministry sources said the collegium took time to send the files. The government has a duty to run the names through the Intelligence Bureau and other machinery, a government source said.

The Supreme Court itself is understaffed - against the sanctioned 31 posts, there are only 24 judges. Although the collegium had recommended Uttarakhand High Court chief justice K.M. Joseph and senior advocate Indu Malhotra for elevation to the apex court, the files are still pending with the Union government.