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Delhi HC notice to BCI over HRD agitation & contempt writ, as BCI seeks police clear for Jantar Mantar dharna

Exclusive: The Delhi high court issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) to explain how it would continue with its proposed agitation against the Higher Education and Research (HER) Bill 2011, with the BCI having taken police permission for a Dharna in Jantar Mantar on 8 August.

The petition [download] was filed by advocate Anoop Prakash Awasthi, who is the national core member of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Liberal Youth Forum of India, alleging that BCI and Delhi state bar council members in calling for a two-day strike, for a Dharna and agitation, were in contempt of the 2002 Supreme Court judgment in Ex. Capt Harish Uppal vs. Union of India & Anr that limits lawyers’ ability to go on strike.

The bench, which had started hearing the matter yesterday at around 345pm in a full court room, is understood to have expressed its appreciation that a young lawyer had filed a petition over the issue.

It is understood that the BCI had notified the police commissioner about a proposed dharna on 8 August for two to three days in Jantar Mantar – the location of Anna Hazare’s high-profile 2011 hunger strike.

Awasthi argued in response that a dharna was nothing but a strike in contempt of court, as the assembly of lakhs of advocates would mean an absence of advocates from court work, which would impair and paralyse the administration of justice.

He noted that the court should step in to stop the plans and issue a writ of mandamus preventing the bar councils from carrying out their proposed dharna at Jantar Mantar, the court served notice on the BCI to appear on 6 August to explain.

However, the court, presided over by acting chief justice Arjan Kumar Sikri, observed that Awasthi’s prayer to initiate contempt of court proceedings against individual BCI and local bar council members who allegedly called for a successful two-day strike earlier in July would be more appropriately heard in the Supreme Court.

Preetpal Singh, who appeared for the BCI, accepted notice.

A BCI insider told Legally India that the BCI would continue with its “agitation programme” as planned, and that talks were ongoing between the BCI and the human resources ministry, which is responsible for the contentious HER Bill, as well as with other government ministers.

Meanwhile the Times of India reported today that another NGO, Fiat Justicia, had filed a petition in the Kerala high court looking for a ban of future strikes by lawyers, with the 11 and 12 July strikes having resulted in the adjournment of 90 per cent of cases.

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