The long-standing demand for a high court bench in Agra has surfaced again ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Lawyers of the Civil Court and Collectorate abstained from routine work on the issue on Wednesday, making it clear that the demand continues to be relevant in Agra which goes to the polls in the first phase on February 11.
They sought implementation of Jaswant Singh Commission report of the 1980s, which identified Agra as a suitable location for a high court bench in western Uttar Pradesh.
Indicating their unhappiness with political parties for not having resolved the issue, the Collectorate Bar Association has decided to field its own candidate in every assembly constituency in Agra.
The association has decided to oppose any political leader coming to campaign for this election. They have taken the stand when the nomination procession is on here.
Lawyers and citizens here believe the Taj city has a rightful claim to a high court bench. In the British era, the high court for the North-Western provinces was situated in Agra for three years from 1866. In 1869, the high court was shifted to Allahabad where it has remained since then with a bench in Lucknow. Locals say the move was the price the Taj city paid for its residents having been active during the First War of Independence in 1857.
The lawyers here began raising demand for a bench at Agra soon after independence.
In 1956, a conference was organised on the Agra Civil Court premises, laying the foundation for a long-drawn movement.
History of the movement
Seminars and meetings continued to be held on the issue between 1956 and 1966. Programmes were organised both in Agra and Allahabad to mark 100 years of the high court in 1966. After the celebrations, traders, public representatives and college students joined the movement.
With the agitation gaining strength in 1980, the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Narain Dutt Tiwari met the then Prime Minister the late Indira Gandhi on the issue. He also wrote a letter to her, seeking constitution of a commission on the matter.
Jaswant Singh commission set up
The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi constituted a three- member judicial commission headed by justice Jaswant Singh. The commission members travelled extensively in the state, which included the present-day Uttarakhand, and identified Agra as a suitable location for the high court in 1985.
With the commission’s report remaining under wraps initially, lawyers of Agra walked from here to Delhi and handed over a memorandum to the then President Giani Zail Singh in 1985. The commission’s report was made public in 1986.
The post-2000 scenario
The Agra lawyers got the support of their colleagues in the districts nearby. Police lathi-charged lawyers at Nagla Chandra Bhan (Mathura) when lawyers waved black flags during a public meeting of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then UP chief minister Rajnath Singh in September 2001.
Refusing to be cowed down, the lawyers intensified their agitation, prompting a large number of policemen to enter the civil court premises on September 26, 2001 and resort to a lathi-charge in which 250 lawyers were injured. A judicial inquiry commission headed by justice Girdhar Malviya was set up to probe the incident.
After the police action in 2001, the lawyers appeared demoralised and the issue was put on the back burner for a years.
The agitation was revived in the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Road blockades and Agra bandh (general strike) were organised.
The lawyers entered the Taj Mahal premises on December 5, 2012 and again reached the gates of the monument of love on September 26, 2013 to press for the high court bench in Agra.
The stir also reached Delhi where a memorandum was given to the union law minister at Jantar Mantar on December 20, 2012. Another protest was staged at Jantar Mantar on December 19, 2014. The issue was also raised before the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on December 17, 2013.
Other districts have emerged as contenders for a high court bench. Meerut is one of them. Those opposing Agra’s claim say the Jaswant Singh Commission report came decades ago and is no more relevant, more so after Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh.
Besides, lawyers at Allahabad have constantly opposed division of the Allahabad high court’s jurisdiction.