Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: For the first time in the history of judiciary in Jammu and Kashmir, litigants are themselves pleading their cases in different courts as the fraternity of the lawyers in the Valley has announced boycott in the wake of scrapping of the State’s special status and bifurcation into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.
High Court Bar Association (HCBA) Kashmir, that has been a constituent of the separatist Hurriyat Conference and has been pursuing the agenda of Kashmir’s separation, has called for boycott to all courts following the arrest of three lawyers, namely Mian Abdul Qayoom, Nazir Ahmad Ronga and Abdul Salam Rishi.
Qayoom has been shifted to a jail in Agra while as Ronga has been lodged in Srinagar Central Jail. Habeas corpus petitions on their behalf are now under consideration of the J&K HC that has issues notices to the Government.
Work at almost all the courts has suffered to some extent but it has not come to a grinding halt.
Several officials and lawyers at J&K HC told STATE TIMES that 5-10 per cent lawyers and 30 per cent of the staff had been attending their duties and commitments notwithstanding the lockdown which has gradually assumed the colour of “civil curfew”.
“Authorities have relaxed restrictions in several areas, excluding downtown Srinagar, but it doesn’t help us. A number of vehicles have been damaged by stone pelters as they don’t allow the government employees, including the hospital staff at certain places, to attend their duties. Many of us reach our offices in casual outfits”, said the Secretary of a judge of J&K HC who stressed on anonymity.
Registrar General of J&K HC, Sanjay Dhar, revealed to STATE TIMES that Chief Justice Gita Mittal had been continuously camping in Srinagar since August 5, and making her best efforts to keep the courts functional. “A few months back, the Chief Justice slipped and suffered a fracture. Even then she held the court without fail from her residence through video conference. Since 5th of August, she has been holding the Division Bench (DB) for half of the day with Justice Rashid Ali Dar. Thereafter, for the second half, she looks after the administrative matters”, Dhar asserted.
Out of the sanctioned strength of 17 judges, there are only 9 judges in place in J&K HC. Four each of them have been holding the courts in Kashmir and Jammu and one has been on leave for health reasons.
According to Dhar, 20-30 cases are listed every day for the DB in Srinagar. Besides, around 100 cases figure in the roaster of each of the three judges of the Single Bench. As regards the attendance of the government advocates, STATE TIMES learned that all of them had been appearing at different courts on all working days, even as their work remains largely paralysed on Fridays.
For pursuance of the government cases, there is a team of 15 advocates -one Advocate General, three Senior Additional Advocates General, three AAGs, three Deputy AGs and five Government Advocates. “All of them have been present on duty without break during the current unrest”, said an official at AG’s office. He said that the judges and litigants were facing some problems due to absence of the lower clerical staff but their work had not been completely paralysed.
Dhar said that the litigants themselves had been pleading their cases and many of such matters, which didn’t involve technicalities and legal or procedural hitches, were being heard and decided by the judges. According to him, more than 10,000 of such criminal and civil suits had been disposed in different courts across J&K from August 5, to August 23.
The data available from 15 of the 22 districts, including Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh, indicates that as many 8,466 suits had been decided in the first 16 days of the unrest. According to Dhar, no contact could be established with Kupwara and Budgam districts in Kashmir and Samba, Kishtwar, Doda-Bhadarwah, Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu. Officials claimed that total number of the cases settled in all the 22 districts could be between 10,000 and 12,000. “We have data from 15 districts but the picture will become clear after we receive data from rest of the 7 districts”, said an officer.
While as the Single Benches of J&K HC have disposed 312 cases in Jammu and 6 in Srinagar, the number of the suits settled by DBs has been 243 and 65 respectively. In all, Single Benches have disposed 318 cases and DBs 308 cases from August 5, to August 23.
Of the 8,466 cases disposed by District Courts and other courts of subordinate judiciary, Jammu tops the list with 5,576 cases. In the Valley, Srinagar tops the list with 419 cases including 348 Criminal, 68 Civil and 3 Small.