In April, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar sent out three communications to Union law minister DV Sadananda Gowda. First, he sought a separate high court for the state. Next, he wanted a separate bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court in southern or western Haryana before he raised the issue of insufficient representation from Haryana in the court’s benches.
There was some good news for Haryana on Friday. The issue of a separate HC bench got an impetus when acting chief justice of the HC constituted a committee of four judges to look into the issue, even as the state’s main demand to have its own high court, requiring the intervention of Parliament, looked uncertain.
The plea for a separate high court for Haryana is not a recent one. The state assembly passed resolutions in March 2002 (during the INLD rule) and in December 2005 (during the Congress rule), seeking the bifurcation of the Punjab and Haryana high court and the creation of a separate HC for Haryana. The argument taken by Haryana is that the disposal of cases would be swift and the judicial system would get further strengthened. “The demand is logical given the fact the number of pending cases from Haryana before the high court outnumber those from Punjab. There is no legal hitch as the Union government needs to amend part IV of the Punjab Re-organisation Act," Khattar wrote in his letter to Gowda.
However, there are complications involved in doing so. Former Union law minister M Veerappa Moily told the Lok Sabha in 2009 that the suggestion of bifurcating existing building and staff of the high court was not practical in view of the existence of the Chandigarh administration.
Moily told the Lok Sabha that the Haryana government had forwarded a resolution of the state assembly for creating a separate HC in the existing premises of Punjab and Haryana high court at Chandigarh by allocating 40% of the building space, ministerial staff, administrative functionaries and judges appointed from the Haryana quota. But the then chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court said that keeping in mind the layout and structure of the building and the pattern of establishment, bifurcation of the existing building, ministerial staff and administrative offices would not be feasible.
“The chief justice said that a separate HC for Haryana may be formed only after setting up an entire infrastructure at any other place chosen by Haryana,” Moily said.
Khattar, however, suggested a way out. “For taking care of the case of Chandigarh, a special bench of the Delhi high court or a joint bench of the proposed (read bifurcated) high courts of Haryana and Punjab can be constituted at Chandigarh,’’ the chief minister said in his letter.
Several lawyers from Haryana have been pushing the case for a separate HC primarily as it will help break the “dominance of Punjab lawyers”. The supporters of the move contend that a separate HC will mean that Haryana has more number of judges from among lawyers. Since the number of cases filed from Haryana is more than Punjab, Haryana lawyers too stand to gain from the bifurcation.
However, there are others, both in the judiciary and at the Bar, who have a contrary viewpoint. “If the high court gets bifurcated, the judges will lose their clout. At present, the HC has a jurisdiction over two states and a union territory . With a bifurcated HC, this clout gets diluted,’’ said a lawyer requesting not to be named.
A senior advocate said that if benches were established elsewhere, there would be problem in sending judges there. No one would like to venture out of the comfort zone of Chandigarh, he added.
SEPARATE BENCH EASIER OPTION
Closely linked to the bifurcation demand is Haryana’s hunt for a separate bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court in southern or western Haryana. Khattar wrote that due to long distances, poor litigants from far-off areas find it difficult to pursue litigation at the high court in Chandigarh. Quoting the example of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra where HC benches have been set up away from the principal bench and are functioning effectively, Khattar said a HC bench in southern or western Haryana could reduce the workload and expedite cases. It would also ensure that the strength of judges is increased and promotions would become faster. In fact, for setting up a separate bench, the government need not amend the Punjab Re-organisation Act as a provision for the same exists in the Act.
Meanwhile, Khattar has urged the Centre to give equal representation to Haryana in all deputation posts and elevation of judicial officers and lawyers from Haryana to the high court. “The Punjab Re-organisation Act nowhere prescribes the 60:40 distribution formula for elevating judicial officers and lawyers of Punjab and Haryana, respectively, as judges of the high court. But the principle is followed while recommending names for elevation. The practice is discriminatory and against the Constitution,’’ he said.