Amid a continuous protest outside gate no. 1 of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, litigants are facing a difficult time even in entering the court complex as the lawyers’ dharna against the decision to establish Haryana Administrative Tribunal by the state government has affected the functioning of the High Court. The pendency of cases is witnessing a rise each day. While Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has made it clear that the decision will not be taken back, the lawyers have been adamant on their “movement” against ‘tribunalisation’ of the judicial system resulting in a total stalemate with a common litigant at the receiving end.
Court functioning at a standstill
There has been a total stalemate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court since July 26 as lawyers have abstained from work to protest against the decision to set up an administrative tribunal in the state. A High Court, which has its jurisdiction across two states of Punjab and Haryana and UT Chandigarh, has been brought to a standstill when it comes to dispensation of justice. Yet, there has been no direct or formal dialogue between the government and lawyers over the issue. While both sides have publicly refused to budge, the common citizen has been the ultimate sufferer in this clash of law and executive power.
At a High Court where the pendency has increased to 4,67,756 cases, each day at least 3,000 cases on average are getting adjourned sans any hearing since July 26. On July 24, the Centre issued a notification — on recommendation of the state government — for establishing the tribunal for adjudication of service matters of its employees. Earlier, the High Court had the power to directly hear the matters but now can hear them only in appeal. The strike has continued even though a full bench of the High Court last Friday for “the time being” deferred the implementation of the notification till further orders. The lawyers see the creation of a quasi-judicial forum like the tribunal as an “encroachment” on judicial independence and powers of the High Court.
On Thursday, the strike entered its 14th day with heavy sloganeering and regular addresses by lawyers outside the Gate No. 1. However, the epicentre of the lawyers’s movement also witnessed a bedlam when a woman, apparently with a plea to seek protection for her daughter, was seen beating her chest and threatening to commit suicide as she was allegedly prevented from entering the High Court building by some lawyers who were part of the protest. As the cameras of a television channel turned towards her, the lawyers in a brazen attempt prevented the media from covering the plight of the woman. The lawyers also allegedly manhandled the media team. The Bar President later apologised to the media personnel.
This is the second incident since the strike has begun where the lawyers have either attempted to stop the litigants or staff from entering the High Court. On Tuesday, bar vice-president Vikas Malik was accused of harassment by an employee of the High Court. A strong protest against the alleged harassment by the staff association of the High Court forced Malik to apologise after the staff members gathered outside the Chief Justice’s courtroom.
Around 14.59 per cent of the cases at the High Court have been pending for five to 10 years, as per the National Judicial Data Grid. About 20.53 per cent have been pending for one to three years. While the Haryana government has claimed that the tribunal is aimed at reducing the pendency at High Court and for quick redressal of the service-related grievances of its employees, the initial estimates reveal that only some 15,000 pending cases will be transferred to the tribunal from High Court once the quasi-judicial forum becomes active. The number is only some three per cent of the total pendency at the High Court.
On the question of preventing the litigants from entering the high court, a senior officer of the High Court administration said, “The administration is seized of the matter. It will be discussed again tomorrow at the appropriate forum and necessary steps will be taken so that the litigants are not hassled.” The Bar Association has said the suspension of work at the High Court will continue indefinitely and has accused the state government of not making any attempts to have a dialogue with the protesting lawyers.
Bar Association president Dr Dayal Pratap Singh Randhawa told Chandigarh Newsline that a meeting of the general house is being held on Friday and the issues will be discussed there. “We will definitely put it before the House that we should rethink allowing the litigants or who are having very important cases. Although advocates are abstaining from work, we will discuss about the litigants,” said Randhawa.
The Chandigarh Press Club condemned the manhandling of mediapersons by the advocates at the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday.