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Saturday shocks

Sanjeev Sirohi |

At the very outset, let me begin by first pointing out that it is strictly ensured in all 26 districts of West UP every Saturday that no lawyer does any work in protest against the Centre not setting up even a single bench of the High Court in any of these districts even though the Justice Jaswant Singh Commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge and appointed by former PM Indira Gandhi had recommended the setting up of three benches at Dehradun, Nainital and Agra. More intriguingly, on its recommendations benches were set up at Aurangabad as also at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and Madurai in Tamil Nadu. To protest this third-class treatment meted out to West UP, it was decided to observe a strike every Saturday henceforth!

This has been happening regularly since May 1981. It has been more than 36 years and even now it is very strictly enforced by the office bearers of every Bar in West UP. No lawyer undertakes any work on this day. The day after, that is November 25 is again Saturday and so lawyers of West UP will once again be on strike. They will not work; just chant slogans demanding creation of a high court bench in West UP. Interestingly enough, most of the lawyers voluntarily join the protest strikes. They say it is most shocking that the region with a population of more than 90 million and so many districts has not been considered fit enough to be given a bench and even recommendations
of the Justice Jaswant Commission have been disregarded.

The lawyers say they are determined that this shall continue till a high court bench is set up in West UP. Not just this, many times in last few years it has been noticed that lawyers even announce a strike on Wednesdays even though it is not as strictly enforced as the one on Saturday.

To put things in perspective, it was way back in 2001 that the lawyers of West UP went on strike demanding a high court bench. The strike lasted for more than six months and was called off after the Centre assured that the demand would be considered in seriousness. Yet nothing happened. Only the striking lawyers of West UP know how they stayed hungry with no work agitating wholeheartedly for a high court bench and got nothing.

Former UP CM Dr Sampoornanand had recommended a high court bench at Meerut in 1955 but the Centre refused. Another former CM Mayawati had even recommended West UP to be created as a separate state to be named ‘Harit Pradesh’ but again nothing happened. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had himself raised the demand of setting up a high court bench in West UP in Parliament way back in 1986. But as PM he could not do much because he was not
in full majority.

But what about the present PM Narendra Modi? He currently enjoys a brute majority. BJP President Amit Shah had himself assured lawyers of West UP more than a year back that a high court bench would be soon set up. Even Rajnath Singh who is Union home Minister had given similar categorical assurances but to no avail. Just recently Dr Satyapal Singh who has been made Union Minister said that high court benches must be set up at Meerut, Agra and Gorakhpur. Apart from him there are many other Union Ministers who have time and again raised their voice in support of the age old demand for a high court bench in West UP.

Let me be direct in asking: Why does the Allahabad High Court which last year completed 150 years of existence and which is Asia’s biggest court have just one bench and that too just 200 km away at Lucknow created way back in 1948? Why is it even as 2018 is about to start that we have no bench either in West UP or in Bundelkhand or at Gorakhpur from where CM Yogi Adityanath hails? As a Member of Parliament, he had himself demanded a bench in 1998.

Why is it that many other state capitals like Bhopal (MP), Bhubaneshwar (Odisha), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) and Dehradun (Uttarakhand) and others have neither high court nor bench but Lucknow was chosen for a bench despite being so close to Allahabad and that too way back in 1948? Why did deserving areas such as West UP, Bundelkhand and Gorakhpur not get a bench despite people having to sometimes travel more than 1,000 km for justice? Why did states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam etc which stand nowhere in terms of number of pending cases and crime as compared to UP have up to three high court benches apart from the main court?

Simply put, it is West UP where maximum riots, maximum killings, maximum crime takes place. Yet it has no bench as both the high court at Allahabad and a single bench at Lucknow are both in Eastern UP. Eight other High Courts, and paradoxically even the Lahore High Court are closer to parts of West UP than Allahabad. It is poor people who face the problem of travelling without reservation for a full night, staying in Allahabad and engaging lawyers just because of the stepmotherly treatment meted out to West UP.

In 2014-15 the lawyers of West UP went on strike for 3-4 months demanding a high court bench. They boycotted Lok Adalats and demonstrated outside courts throughout the night. But to no avail. Why this raw discrimination? It is to protest this that lawyers of West UP keep holding meetings, demonstrations, protests, padyatras and brave lathi-charges as happened on October 14. But still the Centre won’t budge.

For just four and eight districts of Karnataka at Dharwad and Gulbarga respectively, two high court benches were approved in 2012 with one being already there at Hubli. Karnataka has not more than 2 lakh pending cases and has three benches but UP which has more than 10 lakh pending cases, more than half of them in West UP, does not get this facility.

Former UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon had slammed UP as “rape and crime capital of India” but the state has the least high court benches. Truth be told, the population of West UP is more than that of all states other than the one of which it is a part. The area of West UP is larger than that of Bihar.

Let me also be direct in asking: How long will lawyers of West UP keep striking every Saturday? How long will lawyers of West UP keep holding meetings, calling for West UP Bandh, holding protests on national highways, blocking rail routes, roads etc just to highlight their age old demand of setting up a high court bench in West UP?

How long will woman keep getting gang-raped as happened just recently in Muzaffarnagar in West UP and keep going to Allahabad for justice?

The writer is a Meerut-based advocate.