Why Western Up Needs A Bench Of High Court
It can only happen in a country like India that the state of Uttar Pradesh, which has the maximum population among all states and is also among the top few largest states areawise to the extent that just recently the former Chief Minister of UP, Mayawati recommended the partition of the state into small parts. In spite of all this, there is only just one bench of high court in UP and that too just about 150 km from Allahabad High Court. Many smaller states have more benches and this is most unfortunate because it is the people of West UP who have suffered the most for last 62 years as they have to travel maximum and bear innumerable inconveniences. But who cares? At least, those who have been in power in UP and at Centre have cared a damn. If they had cared, the people of West UP would not have been given a cold shoulder since 1947 and a bench would have been here long time back.
We all are aware that more than 2.5 to 3 crore cases are pending all over India and the maximum pending cases are in UP—more than one crore cases—but still there is only just one bench and that too very near to Allahabad. This cannot be justified under any circumstances. In this case, it is the poorest of the poor residing in the remotest of remote areas who bear the maximum brunt as they can’t afford to incur the huge expenses related to travelling more than 700 km, engaging a lawyer, staying and other expenses in Allahabad. And last but not least these people are not simply aware about the legal procedures and therefore have to suffer endlessly in one form or the other. I am sure that if a bench had been in West UP, their sufferings would not have entirely disappeared but certainly they would have been minimised. But most unfortunately this is yet to happen.
Ever since 1955 when Dr Sampoorna Nand, the then Chief Minister of UP recommended that a bench of high court be established in West UP at Meerut, at least 14 Chief Ministers have time and again recommended in this favour. But still it has not materialised. In 1986, the former Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj made a statement in Rajya Sabha in response to a question of the then leader of opposition Atal Bihari Vajpayee: “The government in principle has agreed for establishment of high court bench in West UP and the question of situs of the bench was left to the Central government as Agra was not found to be a suitable place. But where majority of people expect the bench to be formed, it will be formed there.” Vajpayee had himself said that if his party came to power at Centre, it would take no time in creating a bench in West UP. It is the bounden duty of every government to provide speedy justice to litigants and how can this be possible without creating more benches in UP? Many former PMs like the late Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and others have espoused the creation of a bench in West UP and even the present government has appreciated its necessity.
In 1955, the government of Dr Sampoorna Nand and in 1976 the government of ND Tiwari passed a resolution in UP Vidhan Sabha favouring creation of a high court bench in West UP and sent it to Centre. ND Tiwari, in the communication addressed by him to the Central government in 1976 had expressly stated that in view of the developments that had taken place, since the submission by the Law Commission of its 14th report in 1958, setting-up of a separate high court for smaller states which had come into being since 1956, the creation of some benches at places other than the principal seats of justice in Bihar and Rajasthan and marked improvement in legal talent at some principal towns of the western region of the state, the demand of the people of the state for a separate bench of the Allahabad High Court could no longer be resisted. Even the Chief Justices of Allahabad High Court in 1979 and 1985 have admitted that for the welfare of the litigants, the creation of a high court bench in West UP is imperative.
The distance from Allahabad to Meerut is 637 km, to Muzaffarnagar is 693 km, to Saharanpur is 752 km, to Baghpat is 700 km, to Ghaziabad is 662 km, to Bijnore is 692 km, to Gautam Budh Nagar is 650 km, to Bulandshahar is 567 km, to Hathras is 550 km, to Rampur is 633 km, to Moradabad is 662 km, to Aligarh and Mathura is 501 km, to Agra is 464 km, to Etah is 497 km and to Mainpuri is 462 km. These bone-chilling statistics clearly speak for themselves and also disclose as to why the people of West UP are unitedly demanding for a bench here because under the present circumstances it is just not possible to deliver cheap, affordable and speedy justice to the litigants residing here. Till December 31, 2008, the number of pending cases in UP were 14,64,932 and out of these, the cases of West UP alone account for nearly 52 per cent. Presently, more than 16 lakh cases are pending in UP and the cases of West UP alone are 11 lakh. Moreover, for just 12 districts there is a bench of high court at Lucknow then why should West UP having 18 districts be denied a bench? It also cannot be denied that the jurisdiction range of Lucknow bench of high court is just about 100 km but in case of West UP, the area is bigger and so the jurisdiction range of a bench here would obviously be much more bigger regardless of the fact as to where the bench is set up.
The population of West UP exceeds 6 crore and yet there is no high court bench here, whereas in five other states where population is much lesser have their own high court and benches. The population of Rajasthan is only 4.40 crore which is much less than that of West UP but still has its high court at Jodhpur and bench at Jaipur. Similarly, Tamil Nadu whose population is 5.57 crore, Gujarat’s 4.13 crore and Assam’s 2.24 crore and yet they all have their own high courts and benches. The population of Madhya Pradesh is just 6.62 crore and it has its high court in Jabalpur and benches at Indore, Gwalior and Bhopal. Similarly, Maharashtra whose population is 7.89 crore has high court at Mumbai and benches at Nagpur and Aurangabad. Also West Bengal’s population is 6.81 crore and it has high court at Kolkata and circuit bench at Port Blair. The population of Port Blair is 3,56,265 but what an irony that it has a circuit bench, whereas West UP whose population is manifold greater has none. When the pending cases in high court are huge, the Central Law Ministry establishes a circuit bench by which one or two judges in a decided time limit on regional level decide cases.
Guwahati High Court of Assam has two circuit benches at Agartala and Shillong. Similarly, Banglore High Court has three circuit benches at Hubli, Dharwad and Gulbarga. What a pity that leave alone West UP, in the whole of UP there is no circuit bench notwithstanding that it is the most populated and one of the biggest states in India! It is to be noted that a proposal had come during Rajnath Singh’s tenure as Chief Minister to establish a circuit bench in West UP but because of stiff opposition from various quarters, this too was aborted. Nothing can be more shameful than this. The area of central region in UP is just 62,363 square km and still there is a bench at Lucknow whereas the area of West UP is 98,933 square km but still has no high court bench, not even circuit bench! Is it really fair?
It is noteworthy out here that for every case in Allahabad High Court, the advocates there on an average are given fees of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 or even more and the people of West UP every year shell out Rs 100 crore or even more to the lawyers of Allahabad. Not just stopping here only, the endless harrowing woes of people of West UP continue further as they have to spend nearly Rs 50 crore on travelling, food, lodging and a plethora of other related expenses. Still their cases are not disposed of in time and they have to travel many times to Allahabad for very petty cases and thus suffer financial, physical and mental loss to unbearable extent but Centre is least bothered about all this.
In 1977 the Central Ministry had even accepted the recommendation sent by UP state government in 1976 but still it could not materialise. Why? There is more to it than meets the eye. Obviously, Centre succumbed in face of the stiffest opposition from certain quarters. One should not forget that it was the agitation in 1981 by advocates of West UP which ultimately compelled the government to form Jaswant Singh Commission which had in unambiguous terms recommended the formation of three circuit benches of high court in UP and a bench of high court in West UP. But still leave alone a bench of high court or three circuit benches not even one circuit bench has been created after nearly 30 years! One fails to understand why does our government waste crores of rupees on commissions etc when their report are ultimately to be thrown in a dustbin when presented to it?
It is in the interest of speedy justice that creation of bench is imperative for benefit of litigants which must be supreme. It is the worst travesty of justice that West UP which for many decades has been crying and bleeding for a bench here but to no avail. The people of West UP are deeply anguished over the nonchalant and insensitive conduct of both the state and Central government regarding this burning issue and for not giving a green signal to creation of a bench in spite of the same in the supreme interest of millions of people of West UP who since Independence have been punished time and again for being born here. What can be a bigger injustice for the common man of West UP than the bitter fact that the high courts of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi are nearer to West UP in comparison to Allahabad High Court. The common man is the worst sufferer due to this. Can we ignore that in many cases pertaining to West UP, either the plaintiff or the defendant or even both in many cases have died but their cases have not yet been decided? Is it not a mockery of justice? I will cite some of the cases to substantiate the point:-
(a) Second Appeal 1278/74 Smt Aziz Begum v Union of India, pending since 1974.
(b) Second Appeal 2177/75 Harishankar and others v Bheygilu, pending since 1975.
(c) Second Appeal 2320/76 Jaswant Singh v Deep Chand, pending since 1976.
(d) Writ Number 316/74 Ganga Devi v Ram Har Singh, pending since 1974.
(e) Writ Number 447/73 Jagnarayan v DDC, pending since 1973.
The excruciatingly tardy progress of criminal cases in Allahabad High Court pertaining to West UP is further contributing to the rapidly burgeoning crime here. Before the situation here turns from worse to worst, a decision for establishing a high court bench in West UP must be taken at the earliest. The need of the hour is to dispense speedy justice. UP has 80 parliamentary constituencies but only one high court bench but MP which has only 40 constituencies and lesser population has three high court benches and Maharashtra has two.
Can anyone deny that on the report of Jaswant Singh Commission a high court bench at Aurangabad in Maharashtra has already been established in 1985 but the people of West UP have been unfairly denied the same despite the fact that this Commission had very strongly recommended creation of a bench here. The people of West UP have since then felt as if they had been stabbed in the back and they cannot be blamed for it as they have been actually cheated by wrongly denying them their due for which Centre cannot deny its leading share of culpability in this entire episode. Benches of high court have also been established at Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal to minimise the inconveniences caused due to lack of it to the common man. Why then should the people of West UP suffer endlessly?
Many who oppose a bench of high court in West UP on the ground that its dignity will be lowered must read what the apex court categorically held in State of Maharashtra v Narayan Shyamrao Pornaik’s case AIR 1983 SC 46: “This ground of dignity and integrity of the High Court being compromised is not sufficient to deny benches at various places if the demand is genuine and is for the purpose of redressal of the grievances of public at large.” Jaswant Singh Commission took this factor into account and held in its report that neither the cohesion, nor the integrity of Allahabad High Court, nor the efficiency of the bench would be impaired by conceding the demand.
For 160 judges in UP high court, there is only one bench, in Maharashtra for 40 judges there are three benches of high court, for 40 judges of Rajasthan high court there are two benches and for 42 judges of MP high court there are three benches at Bhopal, Indore and Gwalior. Is it fair? Even states like Nagaland and Mizoram which are comparatively very smaller than West UP have their own benches. What is even worse is that in a small state like Sikkim where only 56 cases are pending, a high court has been established with three judges but in West UP where several lakh cases are pending there is not even a single bench even though it is equal to 18th part of India.
Even the President, Speaker, Law Minister and a huge army of tall leaders like Dr Farooq Abdullah have expressed their full solidarity on the bench issue with the people of West UP. The Centre says it will create one more committee to examine the bench issue of West UP. This was not required at all as Jaswant Commission which carried out a thorough probe advocated strongly the creation of a bench in West UP. Only there was dispute about the place and this is what was required to be decided at the earliest.
By Sanjeev Sirohi