The 25 judges came back to work today citing ‘‘changed circumstances’’ but they may have a lot of explaining to do. Justice G S Singhvi, who is the seniormost judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, and who is said to have led the unprecedented one-day mass leave of judges yesterday, had himself delivered a 38-page judgment less than two years ago declaring that strikes that shut down courts are ‘‘illegal and wholly unjustified.’’
Singhvi delivered that verdict on August 2, 2002 as the head of a two-judge bench, while dealing with a reference made to it by a single judge, Justice V K Bali, who is now next only to Singhvi in seniority. Singhvi and Bali are among the three High Court judges summoned by the Supreme Court on the administrative side to explain how 25 judges of the high court went on a mass leave on Monday.
Justice Singhvi will be hard pressed to defend his conduct, especially because of the categorical denunciation in his judgment of a strike by lawyers in 2000 protesting reforms to the Civil Procedure Code.
Since Justice Bali referred the issue on his own, the case is formally titled, ‘‘Court on its own motion vs Union of India and others.’’
Singhvi makes known his aversion to a strike right at the beginning. ‘‘I have given thoughtful consideration to the issue of strike by lawyers and pondered over the same, over and over again. If the courts are virtually shut down on account of strike resorted to by lawyers, no litigation, be it public interest litigation or otherwise, can ever be decided.’’
Ironically, the Forest Hill Club case is a PIL and the judges struck work by taking mass leave obviously in order to prevent Chief Justice B K Roy from passing any order on the notices to two high court judges, who accepted free membership of that controversial club near Chandigarh.
Justice Surya Kant is part of the bench dealing with the case, the Chief Justice could not hear it yesterday in the absence of Kant.
‘‘Bandhs, strikes, boycotts, picketing and dharnas are the hallmark of the modern social setup in urban India. There is a complete lack of work culture, sense of duty, civic sense and responsibility…
‘‘Professional bodies of lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants, etc are not immune to this syndrome … They resort to these unethical methods of redressal of their alleged grievances totally unmindful of the grave injury caused to the common man. This is certainly not the society dreamt of by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.’’
Citing a host of Supreme Court verdicts against strikes, Justice Singhvi had said: ‘‘In view of the law laid down by the Supreme Court not much is required to be said about the decisions of statutory and non-statutory bodies to call members of legal community to go on a strike or boycott the courts or abstain from work for any reason whatsoever. Every such action will have to be treated as illegal and wholly unjustified.’’
He had also cautioned that laywers must engage in ‘‘self introspection’’ and decide whether or not strikes and boycotts are ‘‘not counter productive’’ apart from causing grievous injuries to litigants.’’