HCBA: Much ado about a mere replay?
The bugle has been blown. The curtain is up on yet another High Court Bar Association (HCBA) election. The date fixed is March 2. Democracy at the HCBA having been turned sick and pale for over one year by its disgraceful incarceration at the hands of those in power will now undergo a sham process of resuscitation!
This sums up the plight of the HCBA, turned over the years into a handmaid of those who have perfected the art of taking control of its nucleus, apparently through a democratic exercise but literally through a twisting and turning of the poll process.
In the face of a spirit of an abject surrender by even sober lawyers, both senior and junior, it is not amazing that the election is taking place now after over 27 months of the last one, though the rules require that it be conducted annually.
A few lawyers did venture to move a petition before the High Court last year for expediting the delayed HCBA annual poll and introducing overdue reforms in order to keep out of the voting process the entire lot of non-resident members who are enrolled as HCBA members but do not practice at the High Court.
The ball was then set rolling by a Bench, consisting of Justice AK Yog and Justice Tarun Agarwal, who have been hearing the petition for sometime past. But lo! this was lapped by some of the present incumbents who knew how to make the most out of every situation to serve their ends. They took the stand that the issue regarding the HCBA elections being sub judice before the Bench hearing the case, how could the next poll be held? More the merrier!
The smog so created was cleared only recently when some lawyers, including senior advocate Ravi Kiran Jain, drew the attention of the said Bench to the paradox. The Bench said how the polls could be delayed on the pretext of the pending petition, because the Bench had at no stage passed an interim order staying the conduct of the next election. It had the HCBA office-bearers fall in line, and they undertook before the Bench that the next poll would be held by February 28. However, it now stands finally, and thankfully, scheduled for March 2.
The scene that has thus emerged is not enthusing. Since no suggestions have been forthcoming, either from the Bar Association or the Advocates’ Association, about how to chuck out the non-resident members from the polling process, the Bench has refrained so far from laying down a formula acceptable to both. In other words, the next HCBA poll would be held again according to the prevailing degenerated process!
In other words, whosoever wields money power to the tune of not less than Rs 10 lakh will alone be able to target success for the key presidential post. The exercise has almost been completed by the foresighted by enrolling new non-resident members, and also by paying membership dues on behalf of a number of existing HCBA resident members as also of those enrolled in the past as non-resident members. They will form a solid vote bank for those who have made futuristic investment in them!
Any hope for a senior and morally scrupulous Bar member throwing his hat in the ring for the presidential office? “Not possibly, because the voter roll already stands swelled up in favour of those who have by now already ‘managed’ to pack their bag with too many financially obliged voters—both resident and non-resident,” remarked senior advocate Vijay Bahadur Singh. “It is going to be yet another replay of the old distasteful poll farce,” observed High Court lawyer AN Tripathi. So much for fair elections!
Any hope yet? Yes. Advocates are the officers of the court, and an unsavoury face of the Bar seriously derogates the image of the judiciary as a whole in public mind. So, the Bench hearing the case could still take a bold judicial initiative to lay down mandatory norms to clean up the mess in future Bar elections, beginning 2007, in the greater interest of the Bar, which is as much part of the judicial system as is the Bench and, therefore, is as accountable to the people as is the Bench.