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UP lawyers, ex-law firm partner to file writ vs lathi-charging police

Exclusive: A march by Lucknow lawyers petitioning for greater advocate welfare funds were cane-charged by police on Friday (25 February) leaving many injured. The leader of the protest Gaurav Bhatia, former FoxMandal partner and the co-founding partner of SRGR Law Offices, has vowed to file a writ petition next week challenging the action as the police filed 300 first information reports (FIRs) against them.

Bhatia told Legally India that he was leading a peaceful march of 2,500 to 3,000 lawyers on the Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister’s residence on Friday but police employed heavy-handed tactics. “We wanted to reach the chief minister's house. You know nature of the police, they wouldn't use less serious methods, they immediately started lathi-charging the boys.” (Times of India photo of police beating an advocate available here.)

The police alleged that the lawyers’ protest was violent. The police has now filed 300 FIRs against Bhatia and other lawyers, said Bhatia, but by next week he would file a writ petition under article 19 and article 21 (Right to Life) of the constitution in the Lucknow High Court. “I think it's very sad. Under article 19 of the constitution every citizen has the right to peacefully march [and] it is every citizen’s fundamental right to petition the chief minister.”

“Lathi-charge is an extreme step, it can not be a reasonable restriction. It has been held in various cases of the Supreme Court that you have to opt for other milder forms, like water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas or arrests. These are four measures I can resort to but they immediately started lathi-charging people.

He added that the march was a “democratic set-up”, with him having written a letter to the district magistrate to announce the march and check for formalities, although he said he did not receive a response.

Around 15 lawyers were dealt injuries, with one needing 18 stitches and others having been hospitalised for broken legs and fractured hands, according to Bhatia, with he himself also having received minor leg injuries requiring stitches.

Lawyers’ associations and the VB Adhivakta Vichar Manch organisation, which Bhatia had set up in memory of his late father Virendra Bhatia who was the UP advocate-general between 2003 and 2006 and a Samajwadi Party MP, wanted the government to allocate Rs 100 crore of welfare funds, to increase the advocates’ insurance policy on death from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, and to create a stipend to help young lawyers starting at the bar, said Bhatia.

He said that his father was able to get a budgetary allocation of Rs 122 crore but this was scrapped when the new government came to power in 2007, which had “not spent a penny on lawyer welfare schemes” in the last four years.

The Times of India reported today that the Central Bar Association and the Lucknow Bar Association would go on strike in civil courts on Monday to protest the violence.

“Agitated over being stopped at Parivartan Chowk, lawyers threw stones at police and tried to damage public property. We had no other option but to use force,” said police inspector KN Mishra had told the Times of India about the protests.

Special law and order DG Brijlal told Z News: “When the lawyers were stopped from marching towards the CM's residence, they started pelting stones damaging two roadways buses. They also torched official vehicles of SDM and a PWD department.”

But Bhatia insisted that the protest was peaceful. “We were peacefully marching there was no agitation,” he told Legally India.

In June 2010 following the death of his father Bhatia had split from SRGR Law Offices, which he had co-founded with three other ex-FoxMandal partners, wanting to devote time to his Lucknow practice and to “work for the welfare of the lawyer fraternity”, he told Legally India at the time.

Bangalore police came under fire last week after cane-charges against cricket fans queuing for World Cup tickets, which media outlets such as the BBC reported on negatively.

Photo by Flying Cloud

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