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Supreme Court defers hearing in contempt plea against Orissa HC Bar Association

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The Supreme Court has deferred its hearing in a contempt plea filed by an advocate aggrieved by the non-compliance of the order passed by the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi prohibiting the Orissa High Court Bar Association and other connected Associations from going on strike and to resume court work so that, no impediment is caused to any litigant.

The bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Abhay S. Oka accepted the request of petitioner Anindita and posted the matter for hearing after vacation.

A writ petition had been filed in 2018, before the Supreme Court by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, analyst and commentator, who could not move to the High Court of Orissa as the Bar Association was on strike because of a criminal case against certain police officials. This had created a rift between the police and members of the Bar.

By an order dated 27.09.2018, the three-judge bench headed by the then CJI, Ranjan Gogoi had restrained the Orissa High Court Bar Association and other connected Associations from going on strike and directed them to resume Court work in the interest of the right of access to justice of any litigant.

The case of the present petitioner Anindita was that despite the Supreme Court’s order, the Odisha courts did not resume operation therefore she had to resort to filing a contempt case against the office-bearers of the Bar Association.

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By its previous orders, this court had directed Anindita to engage her own lawyer and to appear before Registrar for interaction but she had not adhered to any of the directions.

In its order dated, 16.07.2021, the Apex Court noted that,

“she was provided legal aid through the Court’s order dated 13.11.2019. If she does not wish to avail the service of the engaged panel lawyer Dr Nirmal Chopra, she should then appoint her own lawyer to represent her in this proceedings. It is seen that she refused to present herself before the Registrar to determine her capability to argue the matter in person.”

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a journalist, was arrested and placed in judicial custody in September 2018 after being charged under sections 294, 295-A, 506, 500, 153-A of the IPC and 67 IT Act for allegedly insulting Odia sentiments and tradition and making derogatory remarks about the state in tweets that had potential to cause communal unrest. He was arrested and put behind bars on October 23, 2018 and remained in custody for over 43 days. Several intellectuals and Amnesty India denounced his imprisonment, but the government did nothing until his health deteriorated, forcing him to be hospitalized after which he was released on bail. It was also speculated that he was caught in the political cross-fire between the then CM of Odisha and his bete noire Baijayant Panda.

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A three-judge bench headed by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud had directed the Director General of Police, Orissa to transfer the investigation to the Inspector General of Police (Crime Branch) who shall himself investigate with the assistance of Superintendent of Police. However, the entire investigation shall be within the charge of the Inspector General of Police and we are sure, he shall conduct the investigation with all sincerity, concern and objectivity.

The Court had directed that the copy of the order to be sent to the Registrar General of the Orissa High Court, who in turn, shall send it to the President, Vice-President, Secretary and others members of the executive body of the Orissa High Court Bar Association and other Bar Associations. The same shall be done with immediacy by the Registry of this Court.

The interim order passed by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Saket shall remain in force till 05.10.2018 to facilitate the petitioner to move the High Court of Orissa. If the petitioner seeks any kind of police assistance for the purpose of security, the same shall be duly considered by the concerned Inspector General of Police.

Case Name- Anindita Vs Anjan Kumar Samantaray

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