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Lawyers Of West UP Compelled To Strike For HC Bench

 “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

          Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

          Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.”    – Mahatma Gandhi    

                                          It is not just for enjoying life or going for some holiday trip that lawyers of West UP repeatedly keep going on strike since last many decades. It should not be glossed over that when lawyers go on strike, it is their livelihood itself that gets affected but all the successive Central Governments have been totally impervious to their legitimate demands by which it is the “poorest of poor”, women, people of lower class who will benefit most as they will then not be required to travel all the way more than 700 km on an average of the 26 districts of West UP with population of more than 9 crore all the way to Allahabad to get justice which means that whole night and half day is wasted just on journey itself. How can lawyers who fight for the litigants cause remain nonchalant to their endless woes which the litigants have to face to travel such a long way and then spend so much of amount in staying there and hiring lawyer and what not!

                                          We all witnessed how when the representatives of all the districts of West UP assembled at Meerut to chalk out their future plan for giving momentum to the agitation for a demand for High Court Bench in West UP under the Chairmanship of the Central Action Committee constituted for this purpose – Mahavir Singh Tyagi who is the current Chairman and also the President of the Meerut Bar Association there was tremendous anger among the lawyers that Centre was not taking a decision on this key issue since last many decades. The lawyers of West UP have been going on strike every Saturday since May 1981 and since last more than four decades have been continuously doing so relentlessly and now it has been decided that the lawyers of West UP will also go on strike on every second and fourth Wednesday of every month and apart from this will also strike on the 29 September, 30 September, 1 October and so also 2 October, 2021 and will now further intensify their age old agitation! It is most baffling as to why can’t Centre create more High Court Benches in UP which has maximum pending cases in India – more than 10 lakh cases in High Court and are on verge of touching one crore cases in lower courts!

        While keeping what Gandhiji had said in mind, late Justice Dr AR Lakshmanan who was the Chairman of 18th Law Commission of India while submitting the 230th report titled “Reforms In The Judiciary – Some Suggestions” had very strongly recommended creation of more High Court Benches in different states which he submitted on August 5, 2009 but even after more than 12 years only one state gained from it and that is Karnataka itself where for just 4 and 8 districts two more High Court Benches were created at Dharwad and Gulbarga and not anywhere else till now even though it is UP that tops the maximum pending cases among all the states and West UP alone has more cases pending than that of whole of Karnataka and population wise also West UP at 9 crore stands way above Karnatka which has just 6 crore population yet has High Court also and 3 Benches also but what an unbeatable irony that for West UP Centre is not ready to concede even a single Bench or even a Circuit Bench! Most disgraceful!

                  Can anyone deny that even the 18th Law Commission in its 230th report candidly noted: “In almost every High Court, there is huge pendency of cases and the present strength of the judges can hardly be said to be sufficient to cope with the alarming situation. It is also necessary that the work of the High Courts is decentralized, that is, more Benches are established in all States. If there is manifold increase in the strength of the judges and the staff, all cannot be housed in one campus. Therefore, the establishment of new Benches is necessary. It is also in the interest of the litigants. The Benches should be so established that a litigant is not required to travel long. It is true that the new establishments will require money, but it is necessary as a development measure, particularly, when efforts are being made for all-round development of the country. Therefore, the money should not be a problem. We have to watch and protect the interest of the litigants. We must always keep in mind that the existence of judges and advocates is because of the litigants and they are there to serve their cause only. Sometimes, some advocates object to creation of new Benches and selection of new sites for construction of new buildings. But they raise objections in their personal, limited interest. Creation of new Benches is certainly beneficial for the litigants and the lawyers and a beginning has to be made somewhere. A speedy trial is not only required to give quick justice but it is also an integral part of the fundamental right of life, personal liberty, as envisaged in article 21 of the Constitution. Article 39A of the Constitution provides for equal justice and free legal aid. The said article obligates the State to promote justice on a basis of equal opportunity and, in particular, provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities?”

             Can anyone deny what Justice Krishna Iyer said : “The way to eliminate this ghastly syndrome of judicial arrears is not more state force but making the system of justice, justices and justicing truly accessible to the have-nots by means of radical judicial reform that is decentralised and democratic. If this does not become possible, the suffering people may leave the courts and take to the streets.” Does this not perfectly apply to UP where more than 1 crore cases are pending that is nearly half the cases pending all over India and here also West UP alone accounts for more than 50% cases? Still should a Bench not be created in West UP? You tell me. Even in other big States like Rajasthan, Orissa and many others, more high court benches should be created so that the huge backlog of pending cases comes crumbling down and the entire criminal justice system stand to gain in the whole process and undertrials gain quicker access to justice.

        According to a statement by learned Andhra Pradesh High Court Judge Justice VV Rao in March 2010, “The Indian judiciary would take 320 years to clear the backlog of 31.28 million cases pending in various courts including High Courts in the country’’ is undeniable. That any attempt to speed up the disbursal of justice could go a long way in addressing the problem and what better than the setting up of more High Court benches and to start with which state is better than UP which is one of the biggest state in India, has maximum pending cases among all the states accounting for nearly half of the total pending cases and here too it is West UP which accounts for most of the cases among the pending cases in UP is undeniable but there is still only one Lucknow bench is quite strange! That setting up of more High Court benches will help the system to come out of its present inertia and address the endless woes of the poorest of the poor who suffer the most in the entire process of delivery of justice for no fault of theirs is undeniable but still there is no sign shown by government to create benches in needy places like West UP is quite strange!

                          What can be a bigger injustice for the common man of West UP than the harsh and lamentable fact that the High Courts of 8 states including Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and above all even Lahore High Court are nearer to West UP in comparison to Allahabad High Court! Who suffers as a result? It is the common man who is the worst affected who has to spend one full night and half day on journey alone to travel all the way to Allahabad!

        It must be asked: Why when UP which is among the largest States, has maximum population – more than 24 crore as CM Yogi Adityanath keeps pointing out every now and then, maximum districts – 75, maximum constituencies, maximum tehsils – 350,  maximum MPs – 80, maximum MLAs – 404, maximum PM including Narendra Modi, maximum pending cases – more than 10 lakh and here too West UP accounts for more than half of pending cases as noted by Justice Jaswant Commission about 57%, maximum Judges which earlier was 160 and increased to 200 in high court, maximum vacancies of Judges – 75 in high court, maximum poverty, maximum villages more than one lakh  as opposed to other states who have not more than few thousands at the most, maximum cities more than 700, maximum fake encounters killings, custody killings, custodial tortures, maximum dowry cases, maximum rape and gang rape cases, maximum acid throwing cases, maximum bride burning cases, maximum cases of human rights violations, maximum undertrials, maximum cases of crime, loot, arson and riots and here too West UP tops with Saharanpur riots, Meerut riots, Muzaffarnagar riots tarnishing our international reputation to the extent that former UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon termed UP as “crime and rape capital” of India and what not yet Centre is not prepared to create even a single bench for not just West UP but entire UP? Why when UP sends maximum MPs to Lok Sabha – 80, maximum MPs to Rajya Sabha – 30, maximum MLAs to State Assembly – 404 MLAs and maximum members to State Legislative Council – 100 MLAs and yet has least benches – only one and that too just 200 km away from Allahabad at Lucknow?

                  It is so shocking and disgusting to see that West UP is fast becoming the epicenter of all kinds of crimes, rapes, gangrapes, brutal murders, mass murders, dacoity, robbery and what not still no High Court Bench being created! Even the former Chairman of Bar Council of UP – Darvesh Yadav who was the first woman to assume the high office at young age of just 38 years was shot dead in the court premises itself soon after being elected in Agra in West UP! What is even more shocking to see is that all political parties barring Samajwadi Party have openly espoused the creation of a high court bench in West UP but still even after seventy four years of independence we see no sign of it happening anytime soon! What is most shocking is that inspite of West UP accounting for more than half of the crime cases all over UP, not a single high court bench has been created here since 1947 till now in 2021 even though a high court bench was created at Lucknow which is just about 150-200 km away from Allahabad way back on July 1, 1948!

         Just changing name of Allahabad or Lucknow will not help! Allahabad was also a good name meaning Allah’s favoured place and Lucknow is also known as “City of Nawabs”! Why Centre feels that only the people living in “Nawab City” that is Lucknow should have High Court Bench and no other city in whole of UP! Are we still slaves of Nawab? I mean no disrespect but why can’t a High Court Bench be created anywhere else? People of Lucknow and adjoining places can’t travel just 200 km away for seeking justice at High Court in Allahabad and so Bench was created there but people of erstwhile hilly areas of UP now part of Uttarakhand were expected to travel like slaves thousands of kilometers away all the way to Allahabad which is even far away from Lucknow! Can on earth there be anything more senseless than this? Yet Centre as also our judiciary like shameless spectators just kept watching everything till people agitated and Uttarakhand became a separate state and then pompously a High Court was created at Nainital! Same holds true for West UP where people have to travel more than 700 km on an average to Allahabad to get justice!

                    Truth be told, no CJI from 1947 to 2021 has ever cared to think about it even though CJI NV Ramana expressed his concern just recently on the huge number of pending criminal cases in the Allahabad High Court and urged the Bar and Bench to work together to resolve it! He said cogently, commendably and convincingly that, “I do not want to point any fingers or lay any blame regarding the pendency in the Allahabad High Court relating to criminal cases, which is very worrying.” Should still more High Court Benches not be created in UP?

                         It cannot be denied that while replying on the pendency of cases in various courts in Uttar Pradesh, Union Law Ministry’s answer in Lok Sabha on July 28, 2021 was: Allahabad High Court including Lucknow Bench – 5,68,987 (Civil) and 4,51,406 (Criminal); Subordinate Courts – 18,41,155 (Civil) and 73,94,155 (Criminal); Fast Track Courts – 5,43,081. Still denying UP even a single more Bench other than one at Lucknow for just 12 districts since 1948 till 2021 can ever be justified on any ground? On the recommendations of Justice Jaswant Singh Commission, High Court Bench was created at Aurangabad in Maharashtra which already had 2 Benches at Nagpur and Panaji and which tops in state list index of justice delivery and similarly Benches were created on its recommendations at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, at Madurai in Tamil Nadu but for UP it recommended 3 Benches for undivided UP at Agra, Dehradun and Nainital yet not a single was created! Can this ever be justified on any ground? This is what the CJI must look into independently and then decide on it urgently! It cannot be kept in abeyance any longer now! It is the common man who will gain the most!

                               Similarly in Bihar also which has not even a single Bench must have as it is counted as a state where law and order is not good! Why peaceful states have 2 or 3 Benches but lawless States like Bihar or even Jharkhand have not even one? It is high time that Centre does something on this also!

                           Above all, we cannot gloss over that even former CJI Ranjan Gogoi spoke truth to power when he clearly, cogently, categorically and convincingly pointed out that setting up of more High Court Benches in UP is the job of the Centre to do and not of the judiciary! This he so pointed out while dismissing the plea by a woman lawyer KL Chitra for setting up a High Court Bench in West UP as the women and poor people of more than 26 districts have to travel more than 700 km all the way to Allahabad to get justice which means one full night and the population is more than 9 crore but he appreciated her arguments as they had force in them! All those in judiciary including lawyers must speak truth to power and ask Centre that why when on the recommendations of Justice Jaswant Singh Commission headed by former Supreme Court Judge – Justice Jaswant Singh set up by former PM late Mrs Indira Gandhi to look into where all High Court Benches were needed in late 1970s approved the setting up of a High Court Bench at Aurangabad in Maharashtra which already had 2 Benches at Nagpur and Panaji as also at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and at Madurai in Tamil Nadu but why not a single High Court Bench was created in UP for which it had recommended 3 High Court Benches in undivided UP at Agra, Dehradun and Nainital? It is here where not just the Centre but even the judiciary too has floundered most badly!

                                      To top it all, even now no one is ready to do anything on this! Why when Allahabad High Court tops in the pending cases among all the States in India and also it is the biggest court in whole of Asia as pointed out by none other than UP CM Yogi Adityanath himself and has maximum Bar Council members in the world as pointed out in the website of UP Bar Council itself has it got just one High Court Bench and that too so near at Lucknow which is capital of UP and just about 200 km away from Allahabad where High Court itself is located and not anywhere else?

                                 On a personal note, Shri KP Sharma who is an eminent criminal lawyer from Meerut and also the former General Secretary of Meerut Bar who first enlightened me on the burning issue of setting up of a high court bench in West UP had expressed his deep anguish in 2005 over the nonchalance and insensitive approach of both the State and Centre regarding this and not conceding to it inspite of acknowledging fully the dire necessity of the same in the interest of millions of people of West UP who are punished for being born  here. He also very rightly lamented that, “What a pity that Lahore High Court in Pakistan is nearer to the people of West UP as compared to Allahabad High Court. The lawyers of West UP obviously don’t enjoy going on strike every Saturday since 1981 because ultimately it is  our own livelihood which is most adversely affected which the world must understand and appreciate. This decision was taken unanimously by all lawyers of West UP as a “token protest” against the abject  callousness and utter disregard for the genuine grievances of a common people who have to suffer the most especially those who are very poor and can’t afford to incur the huge expenses relating to travelling more than 600 or 700 km or even more, engaging a lawyer, staying in Allahabad etc. It is the illiterate people who are fooled the most in the whole process by cunning people of whom there is no dearth and government too is not doing any good by turning a blind eye to the endless woes suffered by the people of West UP since independence which is most disgusting to note. The condition of educated and financially well off is not much better either especially the middle class. We know how much we struggled financially and otherwise also when we went on strike for 6 months at a row from July to December in 2001 and ended only when we were assured of the Bench by representatives of Centre but we were deceived!”

                                        Even in 2014-15, lawyers of West UP went on strike for 3 to 4 months continuously and in 2009 also for weeks together and so also in many other years also but to no avail! It is high time and now the government must take prompt action in creating a Bench of High Court for the millions of people residing in West UP! This issue cannot be kept in cold storage any longer and merits prompt action! No more excuses! No more delays! No more ifs and buts!

                                 Even Yogi Aditynath had thundered for a High Court Bench at Gorakhpur in 1999 as an MP but even after being CM for nearly five years we still see not even a single Bench being created anywhere even though UP is doing good under his able leadership in all other fields! Centre must bail him out on this front also by deciding quickly and positively on this also! Are Ayodhya, Mathura, Meerut, Agra, Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Jhansi, Kanpur etc all worthless cities except the one earlier famous by name of Allah and one famous even now by name of city of Nawabs? We must come out of “Mughal” and “Sultan” culture and Centre must think of people from other places also apart from Allahabad now renamed as Prayagraj and Lucknow! Sadly, we don’t see this happening in last 75 years which is the worst tragedy that I have witnessed at least in my life and is beyond comprehension! Most shocking!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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