Orissa lawyers split over HC benches

After a lull of a few years, the lawyers in Orissa are once again up in arms against each other over the contentious and controversial issue of establishment of permanent benches of the Orissa high court in different areas in the state.

The lawyers based in western Orissa districts have reiterated their demand for setting up of a bench of the high court in the backward region immediately which has been strongly opposed by the members of the Cuttack-based Orissa high court bar association. At present, the Orissa high court is located in Cuttack, the erstwhile capital of Orissa.

While supporting the demand made by their western Orissa counterparts, the lawyers in southern Orissa districts have also come out with a similar demand to set up a high court bench in Berhampur, the principal socio-cultural as well as business hub of southern Orissa.

The lawyers of capital Bhubaneswar have also decided to join the bandwagon and have gone one step further to demand the shifting of the high court from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar though the distance between the two cities is less than 30 km.

Moily’s visit

Interestingly, the latest round of tussle between the members of the legal fraternity in the state over the issue of high court bench has begun following the recent visit of Union law minister Veerappa Moily to Sambalpur, the principal political and business centre of western Orissa.

Moily, reportedly supported the demand for a high court bench in the backward region while accepting a memorandum in this regard from the members of the Sambalpur district bar association. The Sambalpur bar has been spearheading the agitation for the high court bench in the region.

The law minister’s views prompted the Sambalpur-based lawyers to go into a celebration mood which led to a chain of reactions in other parts of the state including a day long work stoppage agitation by the members of Orissa high court bar association in Cuttack.
The members of the association opposed the demand for opening of high court benches anywhere in the state on the ground that the state government has already set up a judicial commission to resolve the issue and the one man commission is yet to submit its report.

“Those who have raised their voice for a high court bench in western Orissa should furnish their views in the form of affidavits before the judicial commission and wait for its report instead of raising their demand again and again”, said Kali Prasana Mishra, secretary of the Orissa high court bar association.

The day-long strike by Cuttack-based advocates was strongly criticised by the lawyers based in southern Orissa, particularly the Ganjam district bar association which, like its Sambalpur counterpart, has been leading the demand for setting up of a permanent bench of the Orissa high court in Berhampur.

Describing the attitude of the Orissa high court bar association as ‘mean-minded’ and ‘colonial’, the Ganjam unit passed a resolution condemning the action of the high court bar and supporting their own as well as Sambalpur bar’s demand for setting up of high court benches.

Though the demand is genuine as people residing in interior pockets of southern and western Orissa do face difficulties in travelling to far away Cuttack to file their cases and follow them up, it may not be an easy job for the state or the Union government to set up high court benches for various reasons. One among them is infighting within the regional bar associations over the location of the proposed benches.

Take the example of western Orissa. It is an open secret that two important bar associations in the region of Sambalpur and Bolangir — have been at loggerheads over the location of high court bench since long. While the former advocates for Sambalpur town as the site for the proposed bench, the latter pushes for Bolangir.

Interestingly, just a few days back, another western Orissa bar — the Rourkela Bar Association (RBA) — had come up with its own demand for establishment of the high court bench in the steel township. According to RBA, the new high court bench should be set up in Rourkela as the steel hub is not only located in a tribal dominated and backward district (Sundergarh) but also had all required infrastructure including road and rail links.

In addition to this problem, there is a possibility that the lawyers based in north Orissa may step in to demand a high court bench for them in their region too. Signals in this regards have already come from the north Orissa districts.

In these circumstances, observers feel that this decades-old controversy is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

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