~By Rajendra Singh Jani
It is surprising that in spite of Uttar Pradesh being the “rape and crime capital of India” as rightly said by none other than former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and accounting for the maximum number of pending cases in courts, it still has the least number of High Court benches in India.
While Allahabad, just 200 km away from Lucknow, has a High Court, the rest of UP, especially western UP, is left high and dry! If Lucknow being the capital of UP can be given a bench, why is it that Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, has no bench? So is the case of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala; Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand and Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha. So why should Lucknow, which is so near Allahabad and having just 12 districts under its jurisdiction with an area of 62,000 sqkm, be given a bench in 1948 when west UP with 26 districts and 98,933 sqkm area not have one? This has inconvenienced the people of western UP as they have to travel all the way to Allahabad, which is about some 600-750 km away from most of the districts. Even Lahore High Court in Pakistan is nearer to western UP than Allahabad.
The demand for a High Court in west UP in Meerut was raised way back in 1955 by former UP CM Sampoornanand but was not accepted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Atal Bihari Vajpayee too had supported the creation of a bench in west UP and had raised this issue in Parliament. In fact, the High Court of UP was initially in the west in Agra from 1866 to 1869. This region accounts for more than half of the total pending cases of UP. The Justice Jaswant Singh Commission appointed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to find out where all High Court benches could be located had recommended that a bench be createdin Agra, Dehradun and Nainital in undivided UP. A High Court bench was made in Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Jalpaiguri in Bengal and Madurai in TN. Surprisingly, even Port Blair had a bench though just three lakh people live in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Even Karnataka with a population less that western UP has three benches — at Hubli, Dharwad and Gulbarga. This when Dharwad and Gulbarga had just four and eight districts respectively under their jurisdiction. Karnataka also has less than two lakh pending cases, while western UP alone has more than five lakh of them.
In the N-E, Sikkim, with just some 100 pending cases, has a High Court. Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura with a population of 36 lakh, 29 lakh and 28 lakh respectively have High Courts while western UP with a population of nine crore does not have a single High Court bench.
It is strange that despite BJP president Amit Shah and cabinet ministers such as Rajnath Singh, Gen VK Singh, Dr Mahesh Sharma and Satyapal Singh demanding five benches for UP at Meerut, Agra, Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Jhansi, these requests have not been heeded. Meerut best fits the location for a bench as it is closest to most districts in western UP.
It is a moot point that the Allahabad High Court is among the oldest High Courts in India along with Calcutta and Bombay and is the biggest court in the whole of Asia with 160 judges. The 230th report of the Law Commission had supported the setting up of more benches in big states such as UP, Rajasthan and Bihar which do not have a single bench of a High Court.
So emotive is this issue that lawyers of western UP have often gone on strike for long periods to fulfil their legitimate demand for a high court bench in this region. Soli Sorabjee as attorney general in 2001 had said: “The centre can create a high court bench in West UP without any recommendation from the State Government or the Chief Justice.” Former Supreme Court Bar Association chairman BN Krishnamani had also said: “Only by the creation of a high court bench in West UP will the people living there get real and effective justice. It should not be denied to them rather should be given at the earliest.”
As per Section 51 of the States Reorganisation Act of 1956, the centre can create a High Court bench in any of the three states – UP, Bihar and J&K — by directly bringing it up in Parliament. With the Supreme Court saying that it is for the centre to decide this issue, why is it still hanging fire?
If Jawaharlal Nehru can set up a bench in Lucknow in 1948, why can’t Narendra Modi as PM who represents UP from Varanasi not create a bench in western UP, especially when the maximum cases of crime, rape, gang rape and riots are reported more from the western UP districts of Meerut, Saharanpur, Bareilly, Agra, Aligarh, Hapur and Muzaffarnagar.
This is a case that needs to be looked into.
–The writer is President, Meerut Bar Association