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Claiming an "inordinate delay" in the appointment of judges to the Calcutta High Court by the Centre, despite the Supreme Court collegium clearing five names, lawyers' bodies on Thursday alleged that the indifference of the Union law ministry had led to the extension of their ongoing ceasework.
Stating that the Supreme Court collegium had cleared the names of five persons on December 4, 2017 for appointment to the post of judges, three lawyers' associations at the high court said the silence of the government on the issue was "surprising".
"The government is sitting on the recommendations of the apex court even as the number of sitting judges at the high court has gone down to only 35 per cent of its sanctioned strength," Calcutta High Court Incorporated Law Society president Mukul Lahiri said.
Addressing a joint conference of the three associations, he said, "The inordinate delay in taking forward the recommendations of the Supreme Court by the Centre amounts to a contravention of the constitutional obligation of ensuring justice to all."
The high court now has only 30 judges, of whom two are always on rotation at the Andaman and Nicobar Circuit Bench, as against the sanctioned strength of 72.
High Court Bar Association president Uttam Majumdar said the severely depleted number was equally affecting the litigants, the sitting judges and the lawyers.
"While the litigants are failing to get justice in time, owing to the delay in the hearing of petitions, the judges are saddled with a huge number of cases. The lawyers are also at their wits' end on how to ensure a speedy disposal of their clients' cases," he said.
Stating that the decision to go on a ceasework was not an off-the-cuff action on the part of the lawyers, Majumdar said the lawyers' bodies had time and again sent representations demanding an expeditious appointment of judges over the last several months.
Members of the three associations went on ceasework from February 19 over their demand for appointment of judges as well as a permanent chief justice to the high court, which had had acting chief justices for the last three years, except for a brief three-month period, Bar Library Club vice-president Farooq Razzaq said.
"Initially, the ceasework was called for five days, but since it did not have the desired effect, it was extended till March 5," he added.
The future course of action would be decided upon at a joint meeting of the three associations on March 5.
Other than one or two cases that were moved personally by the petitioners, no hearing has been held before any bench of the court since February 19 as no lawyer appeared.