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In a move that will significantly affect lawyers, judges and litigants, the Bombay High Court will shift to new premises in Bandra.
Acting Advocate General Rohit Deo yesterday placed before the bench of Justices Abhay Oka and AA Sayed an affidavit filed by the Superintending Engineer, Public Works Department. The affidavit states-
“The government has accorded in principle, approval for inclusion of provision of the new High Court complex by earmarking enough land to construct 25.93 lakh sq. ft. of built up area in the proposed redevelopement of Government Colony at Bandra.”
In the previous hearing, the bench had directed the High Court administration to submit data regarding pendency, staff members working in the High Court, number of judges, total number of members of the bar etc.
Senior counsel AA Kumbhakoni, appearing for the administrative side, submitted the data. After perusing through the data and taking all facts on record, Oka J passed a detailed order. It stated,
‘This building was constructed to accommodate only 4-5 courts. Today the sanctioned strength of judges for the Bombay High Court is 94, the actual strength is 64. A total of 35 judges are currently functioning from the principal seat.
This court does not have adequate facilities, space, toilets etc. There is no designated parking for litigants and members of the bar. There is no proper record room available in the main court complex. Historically important court records have been shifted to the small causes court building.”
Dismissing the “heritage” argument made by intervenors in the PIL, the bench said,
“The heritage status issue is irrelevant, courts of law are established for litigants. Our primary concern is for them, their interest has to be given primacy over inconvenience of judges and lawyers.”
The total pendency of criminal cases in the High Court up until May 2016 was 28,521. There has been an increase of almost 3 times in this figure since 1997. The total miscellaneous civil cases as of today is 48,868; this has more than doubled in the last 20 years. It is interesting to note that 3 years ago, more than 35,000 suits were transferred to city civil court.
Oka J also observed that 15 judges are expected to be appointed to the principal seat of the High Court by the end of the year. This will increase the actual strength to 50. The total number of members of the three major bar associations in Mumbai i.e., Advocates Association of Western India, Bombay Incorporated Law Society and Bombay Bar Association is 6000.
The main PIL was filed by Ahmad Abdi, who sought a writ of mandamus against the state to shift the High Court to bigger premises. He also seeks 7500 chambers to be built for lawyers.
Finally directing the state to file an affidavit placing the master plan for the new building on record by December 31 2016, Oka J said,
“State government will have to take into consideration the future requirement for the next 75 to 100 years. Also the requirements of the Bar Association will have to be taken into account.
Financial constraint is no ground for delay in infrastructure facilities.”
The next date of hearing is January 10, 2017.