Orissa High Court Opens Its E-Branches In 10 Districts
At a time amidst demands from lawyers across the country for setting up of High Court Benches in different parts of different states, the Orissa High Court has truly ventured in taking the most pioneering step of opening of virtual High Courts in 10 districts and plans to provide similar facilities in the remaining 20 districts by middle of this year! But what a national tragedy that we see no such initiatives in the most populated state of India that is Uttar Pradesh with maximum pending cases and here too it is West UP which owes for more than half of the total pending cases of UP and still we see no such facility being set up here! It is UP which needs such facilities but it seems that the Chief Justice of Uttar Pradesh and the Chief Justice of India Dr Dhananjoy Yashwant Chandrachud is dead determined never to allow any such facility notwithstanding that the lawyers of West UP have gone on strikes for months and months together as in 1978 for one month hunger strike, strike every Saturday since last 42 years from 1981 till 2023, strike every Wednesday which was discontinued so that litigants don’t suffer immensely, strike for 6 months as in 2001, strike for one or two months as in 2009 and 2010, for five and a half months as in 2014-15 and so on for reasons which remains undisclosed and it is absolutely incomprehensible as to why Centre and CJI are so biased against UP in general and West UP in particular where there is not even a single Bench!
In hindsight, we saw how the relentless demand for High Court Bench at places other than its principal seat from Bar Associations in different states and resultant strikes that ensues has often paralysed judicial work in States. We saw how just recently we had seen ugly incidents where several lawyers indulged in violence at Sambalpur in Western Odisha even though the distance of Sambalpur to Cuttack where High Court is located is just about 261 km as opposed to the 30 districts of West UP which are at a distance of more than 700 to 750 km on an average all the way to Allahabad to seek justice which means whole night and half day is spent on just travelling alone still no Bench! Still we see most mercilessly West UP is denied even a single High Court Bench and Lucknow which is so close to Allahabad about 230 km has High Court Bench since 1948 which is most reprehensible and reeks of double standards, discrimination and hypocrisy!
Truth be told, we saw how just few days back in the first week of February, CJI Dr DY Chandrachud most proudly and most pompously inaugurated virtual High Courts in 10 districts – Sambalpur, Brahmapur in Ganjam, Bhadrak, Kalahandia at Bhawanipatna, Khurda at Bhubaneswar, Bolangir, Koraput at Jeypore, Puri and Rourkela in Sundargarh. The locations of these virtual High Courts were determined by the geographical location and volume of cases filed in the High Court from these districts. The billion dollar question is: Why even in one district of UP specially in remote areas like Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and West UP where it is so urgently needed also we see that this facility is not available in Uttar Pradesh nor do we see any possibility of it being done in near future going by the past bitter experience? Why in UP and West UP in particular we see no such initiative forthcoming from the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court? What is stopping the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court from acting similarly as we see in case of Orissa for which the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court S Muralidhar definitely deserves the full credit in picking up the gauntlet and doing what was earlier considered truly as next to impossible!
It is most heartening to note that the CJI congratulated the Orissa High Court Chief Justice S Muralidhar on the novel initiative and said the High Court has been a trailblazer in e-initiatives. But here also the moot question arises: Why we see no such landmark initiative from the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court which holds the dubious distinction of having the maximum pending cases in India? Why even CJI maintains a deafening silence on it? Why CJI never nudges the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court to act similarly?
As a matter of some consolation, we see that the CJI Dr DY Chandrachud hoped that this litigant friendly initiative would turn into a national movement when the other High Courts followed suit. Why do we see just no action in Allahabad High Court in this regard which is the biggest court in whole of Asia with maximum pending cases in India and members of UP bar Council are the maximum in world and so also Judges in UP are maximum at all levels? Should CJI be really proud of it?
As if this was not enough, should CJI be really always proud that earlier also when the Justice Jaswant Singh Commission headed by a former Supreme Court Judge recommended three High Court Benches for undivided UP, not one was allowed to come up and states like CJI’s home state Maharashtra which also tops in latest State List of Justice Index Ranking and which already had multiple Benches was given one more Bench at Aurangabad in 1985? Former Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray approved another High Court Bench for Kolhapur for just 6 districts! Still should CJI not ensure that High Court Benches are created in needy regions in UP also?
Instead what do we see on ground? The CJI congratulated Orissa High Court Chief Justice S Muralidhar on the novel initiative and said that the High Court has been a trailblazer in e-initiatives. He hoped that this litigant friendly initiative would turn into a National movement when the other High Courts followed suit. Just hoping won’t do and it is CJI’s bounden duty to ensure that this is done especially in lawless Bihar, most populated State of India with maximum pending cases that is UP and so also states like Rajasthan which is the state with maximum area!
By all accounts, we have to concede that the CJI is entirely right when he said that while most of the High Courts have only one seat and few High Courts have second Benches, the Orissa High Court will be the first to be accessible from all the districts of the State. The Chief Justice of Orissa High Court – S Muralidhar deserves all the admiration for the stupendous achievement that he has achieved which must be emulated by States like UP and Bihar in particular but we don’t see even any remote possibility of happening so in the near future unless the Chief Justice of the concerned State acts swiftly in this direction which is the crying need of the hour also! It is the CJI’s bounden duty to ensure that this is done on a war footing in states like UP and Bihar in particular!
It must be mentioned here that of the present pending caseload of around 1.7 lakh cases ion the High Court, around 72,760 cases are filed from the above ten districts of Orissa with the highest of the above ten districts being Khurda from where around 27,160 cases have been filed as per the sources of Orissa High Court. On the contrary, we see that in Uttar Pradesh the number of pending cases are more than ten lakhs in High Court alone and here too West UP with more than 10 crore population as opposed to Orissa with just 4 crore population account for more than half of the total pending cases of UP and still we see neither the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court nor the CJI doing anything to provide relief to the litigants of West UP who have to waste whole night and half day in just travelling alone not just till Lucknow where a single Bench is located but right till Allahabad which is more than 230 km away from Lucknow and yet most stupidly, shamelessly and senselessly we see no action taken by either the Centre or the CJI or the Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court to provide any kind of relief to the people here! Does it not tantamount to making a complete mockery of Article 14 of the Constitution which stipulates the right to equality as a fundamental right to all the citizens of India?
It is worth noting that these virtual High Courts will have video conferencing facilities and a ‘Back Office’, where it will be possible for lawyers to e-file their cases with assistance from staff/officers dedicated for that purpose. It must also be mentioned here that advocates or parties in person who are not familiar with computers can hand over the hard copy of the petition to the staff at the Back Office who will then scan and prepare and e-file the petition. It must also be mentioned here that this provision has been made for lawyers and litigants to argue their cases virtually before the High Court functioning from Cuttack.
On the face of it, the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court – S Muralidhar is spot on when he says that setting up of virtual High Courts is a big step forward and if it succeeds, it will change the face of the judiciary. When this can be done in a state like Orissa where the maximum number of pending cases are so less then why can’t it be done also in Uttar Pradesh especially in West UP, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal and so also in needy regions of Bihar? But for this to happen in reality, the litigants are entirely at the mercy of the concerned Chief Justice who in last 75 years have only disappointed by doing just nothing on this score even thought the 230th report of the Law Commission of India recommended for creation of more High Court Benches but most disgracefully, it remains unimplemented in most of the needy states in last 14 years! Yet still let us fervently hope that we will definitely see some fresh tangible steps being taken in this direction also in UP, Bihar and other needy states!