Punjab & Haryana HC in deep crisis
Chandigarh, April 19
Only two Judges — the Chief Justice, Mr Justice B.K. Roy, and Mr Justice Amar Dutt — attended the court today.
This is the first time that the Judges of a High Court have gone on mass leave in protest against their Chief Justice.
Strained relations between the Chief Justice and several other Judges have marked the functioning of the High Court during the last four months. As many as 21 Judges had told the Chief Justice of India that they were finding it difficult to work with the Chief Justice of the High Court. The CJI had recently sent two Judges — Mr Justice RC Lahoti and Mr Justice Ashok Bhan — to listen to the grievances of the dissenting Judges. They had also met Mr Chief Justice B.K. Roy.
Some senior Judges of the Supreme Court were in touch with some of the dissenting Judges till late this evening to persuade them to rejoin the court tomorrow.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association today held an emergency meeting and criticised the dissenting Judges for going on mass leave, "crippling and paralysing the judicial work in the High Court and creating a grave and unprecedented situation".
The group of 25 Judges had taken the decision to go on mass leave at a meeting on Sunday afternoon. Each Judge conveyed the decision to go on leave to the Chief Justice in separate letters last night without mentioning any reason. The Bar Association also asked the President of India and the CJI to transfer immediately all local Judges from the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
A 10-member delegation of the Bar Council also met the Chief Justice in the evening. Mr Justice Roy is reported to have told the delegation that he was ready to talk to the angry Judges to resolve the issue.
A majority of the Judges and the Chief Justice have been engaged in a bitter war-of-words over one issue or the other for the last over four months. While some Judges have been accusing the Chief Justice of trying to undermine their authority, the Chief Justice has issued show cause notices to two Judges for their having taken the membership of a controversial resort, the Forest Hill Country Club and Resort. These Judges are Mr Justice Viney Mittal and Mr Justice Verinder Singh.
Meanwhile, due to the absence of the Judges, litigants had to face a lot of problems. The Chief Justice and Mr Justice Amar Dutt sat in a Division Bench to hear the urgent motions of all the Judges.
At today's meeting of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association, speaker after speaker assailed the Judges for proceeding on leave. Almost all the members felt that this had dealt a severe blow to the institution of judiciary. In fact, some members even went to the extent of demanding impeachment of the Judges, who are found to be involved in questionable activities.
"Are they (Judges) trying to destroy this institution? If they are unhappy here, they should resign so that new blood can take their places," said Mr HS Gill, advocate.
Former Secretary of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association Rupinder Khosla wondered why the CJI had chosen to ignore the matter when he came to know about it. "This is a collapse of the system. This crisis will take a heavy toll on this great institution," Mr Khosla added.
Advocate Rajeev Godara pointed out that some of the Judges who have gone on leave are the same who had opposed the right of the lawyers to resort to strike. "Have they forgotten that so soon? The best solution to the problem would be to shift all local Judges," he observed.
However, some speakers also came down heavily on the Chief Justice for his alleged irresponsible attitude while dealing with the crisis. "The Chief Justice shouldn't play to the gallery. If things have reached such a breaking-point, he is also to be blamed as he has failed to keep his house in order," said Advocate Puran Singh Hundal.
Mr V.M. Jain, Mr R.S. Mittal and Mr O.P. Goyal, all Senior Advocates, Mr H.S. Nagra, Mr S.P. Gupta, Mr Anupam Gupta, Mr Hardeep Singh and Mr Tahar Singh also addressed the members.
In a late evening development, the protesting Judges heeded the request of senior Judges of the Supreme Court of India and decided to rejoin duty from tomorrow. It is learnt that Mr Justice Rajendra Babu, who will take over as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, talked to Mr Justice G.S. Singhvi and some other senior Judges and persuaded them to end their protest and return to work. After talking to him, the Judges decided to resume duty from tomorrow. Meanwhile, on learnig about the decision of the Judges to end the impasse, the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana decided to shelve its plan to go to New Delhi to meet the Chief Justice of India. A delegation of the Bar Council was scheduled to meet the Chief Justice of India tomorrow to seek his intervention in resolving the matter.
It is learnt that Mr Justice Rajendra Babu, who will take over as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, talked to Mr Justice G.S. Singhvi and some other senior Judges and persuaded them to end their protest and return to work. After talking to him, the Judges decided to resume duty from tomorrow.
Meanwhile, on learnig about the decision of the Judges to end the impasse, the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana decided to shelve its plan to go to New Delhi to meet the Chief Justice of India.
A delegation of the Bar Council was scheduled to meet the Chief Justice of India tomorrow to seek his intervention in resolving the matter.