Report by Badal Tah; Rayagada, December 18: In spite of incessant drizzle due to Pethai at Rayagada, members of Bar Associations of different courts of Rayagada district namely District & Session Court of Rayagada, Civil Court, Gunupur, JMFC, Bissam Cuttack & Kashipur staged road blockades from dawn to dusk at respective court headquarters demanding the establishment of High Court Bench at any of the districts of erstwhile Koraput district, viz, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangapur and Malkangiri.
At Rayagada, the blockade was near Hotel Kapilas Chowk on NH-326. The entire town was paralysed by the bandh, which was supported by office bearers of political parties across party lines. Truck, Bus, auto, taxi associations and several other civil society organisations like labour unions including Zilla Sambadika Sangha extended the solidarity for the cause. Schools and daily market and shops were seen closed. The stir has affected bus, train, taxi, auto rickshaw communication for twelve hours causing severe problems for the commuters.
As the history goes, a similar blockade broke out during the fag end of 2013 when Jeypore Bar Association gave a clarion call for instituting a permanent bench of the apex court at Jeypore. The then Central Coordination & Action Committee even threatened to boycott election if the govt did not buzz to their demand. Ganjam Bar Association(GBA) has been demanding the Bench in South Odisha for last ten years and at present the GBA has been boycotting courts for last four days of every month as part of their agitation. The members of GBA alongwith ruling party MLAs even submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister and met him in his residence to set up the Bench at Brahmapur citing it to be the most important town in South Odisha and hence, the best suitable place as it fulfilled all criteria suggested by Jaswant Singh Commission. At some point of time, members of Rayagada and Nabarangapur Bar Associations also justified that Rayagada & Nabarangapur would be best suited for the Bench.
Then at the call of GBA, members from eight district bar associations assembled and formed a 116 members action committee under the banner of South Odisha Lawyers association and delegated the authority to GBA to spearhead the campaign. The High Court Bar Association earlier boycotted court proceedings to protest the strike by lawyers in Western Odisha demanding establishment of a permanent bench in the region. Though this attitude of the High Court Bar association had been decried by several bar associations of South and West Odisha, the unity among the lawyers has suffered a setback. It is alleged that a conspiracy is now going on to weaken the demand for high court benches at South Odisha through demands for the benches from multiple places. Similar tactics are used to weaken the agitation in Western Orissa it is alleged.
Though at different point of times, Rayagada, Nabarangapur and Koraput Bar associations demanded the Bench at their respective places, at least, this time these bars have come together for the bench at any district of the undivided Koraput district. According to Sri Bishnu Prasad Panda, President, Bar Association of Rayagada district, undivided Koraput district is inhabited mostly by poor adibasis and dalits and other weaker sections of the society, who are unable to traverse between 400 to 600 kms & bear the costs of going to Cuttack to pursue legal matters. As a result, hundreds of under trial prisoners are languishing in various jails in the district, lamented Panda. Sri labanya Mohan Patnaik, another prominent member of the Rayagada Bar still feel that Rayagada is the best place for the bench. Sri Pradip Dash, another senior counsel opines that if the demand is not met soon, they have to resort to accelerate this agitation in an aggressive but peaceful way.