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Less than a week after the Supreme Court issued notice in a contempt petition against Delhi lawyers who went on strike, the Orissa High Court Bar Association has decided to boycott courts. The Association has resolved to abstain from court tomorrow in protest against the state government’s decision to abolish the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT).
Speaking to Bar & Bench, Bijaya Kumar Ragada, Secretary of the Bar Association said,
“We have decided to abstain from High Court tomorrow as a show of solidarity towards the members of the Odisha Administrative Tribunal (OAT). We will abstain from proceedings only for one day so that litigants do not suffer.”
Last week, the state government abolished the OAT as it felt that the Tribunal’s objective of providing speedy justice was not achieved. Despite the lawyers’ imminent protest against the decision, the fact remains that the government is well within its rights to do so.
In 2004, when the abolition of the Madhya Pradesh Administrative Tribunal was challenged, the Supreme Court held that states can take a policy decision to abolish such Tribunals.
However, it seems that another Supreme Court decision has forced the government’s hand. According to government officials, the abolition of the Tribunal was warranted by the Supreme Court’s judgment in L. Chandrakumar v. Union of India.
In Chandrakumar, a Constitution Bench held that no appeal from the decision of a Tribunal will directly lie before the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution. Such an appeal would only lie before a Division Bench of a high court under Article 226. Thus, the state government felt that this decision rendered the OAT redundant.
In fact, this is something the Law Commission has also agreed with. In its 215th Report of 2008, the Commission called for the apex court to revisit its decision in L. Chandrakumar as,
“…the very objective behind the establishment of the Administrative Tribunals is defeated if all the cases adjudicated by them have to go before the concerned High Courts.”
The state government plans to shift the existing service matters pending before the OAT to the High Court. According to a news report, the number of pending cases at the OAT stands at 31,820 as of December 2014.
In the same report, Odisha’s Chief Secretary, GC Pati, said that discussions on increasing the number of High Court judges are in the pipeline. Currently, the approved strength of the High Court is 27, with 5 vacancies.