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The Central Action Committee (CAC) of All Western Odisha Bar Association (AWOBA) has decided to go ahead with their Western Odisha bandh call on Wednesday with the State Government remaining silent over their demand.
They have been demanding a complete and comprehensive proposal to the Central Government over setting up of High Court Bench in the region by February 18.
CAC secretary Niranjan Tripathy said the State Government has not yet acted on the demand. “As we had given an ultimatum, we will go ahead with the bandh call,” he said.
Essential services will not be hampered though. Similarly, students will be allowed to reach their schools and colleges to appear for examinations and marriage ceremonies allowed to be solemnised.
The Sambalpur District Bar Association (SDBA) has also urged all political parties to join the bandh call.
A solution to lawyers’ agitation in western Odisha seemed imminent on Saturday after law minister Maheswar Mohanty on Friday invited them for a discussion. The agitating lawyers are demanding a high court bench in western parts of the state.
The minister in a letter requested the Central Action Committee (CAC), spearheading the protest, to have a talk at 5 pm at secretariat on February 9, convener of the CAC Ashok Dash told the media.
“We convened a meeting on Saturday to discuss the matter. It was unanimously decided that we would take part in the discussion. Till then, we will stage a 24-hour relay hunger strike,” Dash said.
Dash has been on an indefinite hunger strike in front of Sambalpur RDC office since Wednesday along with four other senior members of the CAC. A 13-member team will go to Bhubaneswar on Sunday morning to meet the minister, he said.
“Our future course of action will be decided only on Monday after our delegation comes back from Bhubaneswar,” senior lawyer Pradeep Bohidar said.
Common men faced difficulties as even ATM counters of several banks remained closed owing to the agitation. Both RDC (northern division) Pramod Meherda and collector (Sambalpur) Balawant Singh have already requested the lawyers to call off the agitation in the interest of public.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik urges centre to consider matter to set up High Court Bench in Western Odisha during addressing a campaigning rally at Bargarh. It was the dream of late Biju Patnaik to set up a permanent High Court Bench in Western Odisha. So, I’ve exhorted the Centre to consider the matter,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik throwing his Government’s weight behind the longstanding demand on Tuesday.
The Chief Minister kicked off the campaign for the civic body polls from Nishamani High School ground here. The Bargarh Municipality consists of 19 wards, two of which (8 and 15) have already gone to the NJD’s kitty with election of its nominees uncontested. Now, the election will be held for 17 wards, where 66 candidates are in the fray.
Canvassing for the party, Finance Minister Prasanna Acharya said that Bargarh municipality was set up in 1953, and of these 60 years Congress has ruled for 51 years during which it has abysmally failed to bring about any development here. Hence since 2003, the chairperson’s post has eluded it. On the other hand, the BJP has launched a door-to-door campaign involving its senior leaders including Nayana Mohanty, Bimbadhar Kuanr, Sureswar Sathpathy and Ashwini Sarangi. Also not to lag behind others, the Congress, led by PCC chief Jayadev Jena, local MLA Sadhu Nepak and other leaders took out a rally on Monday.
With the lawyers’ strike withdrawn, the state government has started preparations for holding elections in all urban bodies in western Odisha in November-December. But Sambalpur and Rourkela being tipped to become corporations are likely to be left out of the list, official sources said here.
The State Election Commission (SEC) on Tuesday intimated the government to inform at the earliest whether or not it is ready to have polls in the 25 urban bodies spread over nine districts. The government before responding to SEC’s query has asked all district collectors and superintendents of police (SPs) to submit ground situation reports.
Elections to these urban bodies could not be held on September 19 along with 66 others because of lawyers’ strike for high court benches and consequent poll-boycott by political parties. The surcharged atmosphere in the region has since calmed down after the government recommended two HC benches, one in southern and another in western region. The government apparently sensing the public mood is not in favour of the ruling BJD announcing corporation status for Sambalpur and Rourkela municipalities.
“Formation of corporation itself requires meeting a host of official formalities. Election is almost the last phase, preceded by fresh identification of wards, reservation of seats, preparation of electoral rolls, etc. The entire process may take more than six months,” said a senior government official.
He said formal notification for converting Sambalpur and Rourkela as corporations is yet to be made. Both the towns do not have required population of three lakh each to become corporations. The government in order to meet the requirement of law has tried to include Hirakud, Burla notified area councils (NACs) and 12 nearby panchayats to form Sambalpur Corporation. Similarly, to meet the population figure several villages have been roped in for the proposed Rourkela Corporation.
“As per the rule the villages must give their assents to be part of any corporation. As the proposal that came from Sundargarh administration did not have approvals from villages, the government has returned it,” the official said. “A corporation has to have minimum 39 wards. Additional councillors, if needed, will be made for every 15,000 population,” the official pointed out.
“The government has declared to make two more corporations keeping in view the general welfare of people there. We will surely go by the law. Elections can be held after due completion of the processes,” said urban development minister Debi Prasad Mishra.
Going by the past experience, lawyers agitating for permanent High Court bench are treading a cautious path. A day after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal to set up two benches, lawyers of 33 bar associations in Sambalpur region decided to suspend the agitation. At its meeting in Boudh on Sunday, the Central Action Committee (CAC) of All-Western Odisha Bar Association (AWOBA) decided to continue with its ceasework on last three days of every month till the Bench becomes a reality.
However, the Kalahandi lawyers have threatened to continue with the agitation. District Bar Association president Daitari Pradhan said the State Government must wait till Justice CR Pal Commission submits its report.
Bhawanipatna, he reiterated, is the most suitable location for HC bench as per Jaswant Singh Committee report in the KBK region. The letter by Naveen is a tactical move to divert attention, he said.
Although the Chief Minister’s letter is being seen as a battle half won for Sambalpur region lawyers, it would still be a long drawn affair. In the past, former Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily had assured to give assent to the proposal if forwarded by the State Government.
The CAC would meet again in November in Nuapada and decide the next course of action. The CAC Convenor, while expressing gratitude to the Chief Minister, admitted there was still a long way to go.
He was, however, critical of the stand taken by the High Court Bar Association over establishment of Benches and said the lawyers would observe Monday as “protest day” to register their anguish over the stand. But State Government offices will be allowed to function smoothly from Monday, he added.
Lawyers of Koraput and Jeypore, who had resorted to ceasework demanding a High Court bench in Southern Odisha, have withdrawn their strike.