Uttarakhand HC Formulates Procedure To Expedite The Issue Of Shifting Of High Court From Nainital

           It is really most refreshing to learn that in a most learned, laudable, landmark, logical and latest judgment titled State of Uttarakhand Vs Gulshan Bhanot and Others in Special Appeal No. 1 of 2024 that was pronounced as recently as on 08.05.2024 and delivered by a Division Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Hon’ble Smt. Chief Justice Ritu Bahri and Hon’ble Sri Justice Rakesh Thapliyal have in no uncertain terms clearly underscored the court’s firm commitment to addressing the multifaceted challenges that are faced by the judicial system and so also the public at large. We definitely also need to note here that this progressive judgment very seriously deliberates on the critical issues that are very seriously plaguing the current set up of the High Court at Nainital. What cannot be lost sight of is that this pertinent judgment also further elucidates the huge challenges that are faced by the litigants and legal practitioners in Nainital including traffic congestion, housing storages for young lawyers and exorbitant living costs that are exacerbated further by the Nainital City’s status as a tourist hub.    

        It must be brought out here that the Bar associations of the Garhwal region welcomed the decision of the Uttarakhand High Court to not shift the High Court from Nainital to Gaulapar in Haldwani which even Centre had approved in writing earlier. The representatives of the bar associations of various districts of the Garhwal region along with the representatives from Udham Singh Nagar held a meeting in Dehradun on May 10 regarding the relocation of the High Court from Nainital to Rishikesh. The President of the Dehradun Bar Association Rajeev Sharma said that the court on Friday asked the State government to find suitable land that can accommodate chambers for at least 7,000 advocates besides having sufficient space for judges, judicial officers, staff, courtrooms, conference hall, canteen, parking space, good medical facilities and road connectivity. He said that so far, IDPL in Rishikesh appears to have sufficient space to accommodate all these facilities in the long run. The court has also asked the government to start a portal by May 14 where lawyers can vote on whether they agree to shifting the High Court from Nainital. “We will ensure that each and every lawyer of Garhwal region votes in support of shifting of the HC. The court’s new order to shift not just the bench of the high court but the entire HC is a big win for us,” he said. The senior members of the bar council also said that the shifting of the High Court from Nainital to Dehradun district should not be considered as an issue for conflict between the Garhwal and Kumaon regions. It is all about a practical approach for lawyers as well as the litigators. The cases that can be resolved for about Rs 20,000 in Dehradun costs about Rs 80,000 to Rs one lakh for litigators due to frequent travelling, expensive accommodation and hefty lawyers’ fees, among others, as Nainital is a busy tourist place. They added that they are ready to make all sacrifices this time to ensure the High Court is shifted to the Garhwal region.     

    We need to note that the advocates in  Rishikesh also voiced their extreme delight pertaining to the directive to explore the feasibility of establishing a High Court Bench in Rishikesh. Mr Pancham Singh Mia who is the President of the Bar Association of Rishikesh welcomed this decision by the High Court’s Division Bench, emphasizing its positive impact. Former President Rajendra Sajwan of Rishikesh remarked that the call for establishing a High Court Bench in the Garhwal division has been a very longstanding demand. He also rightly highlighted that the IDPL site in Rishikesh is particularly well-suited for this purpose. Advocate Mr Amit Vats said that the High Court has taken cognizance of the long standing demand of the advocates. With the establishment of the High Court Bench here, while the citizens of Garhwal division will get convenience, a new identity of Rishikesh will also be created. No denying it.

                                  At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Sri Justice Rakesh Thapliyal for a Division Bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Hon’ble Smt. Chief Justice Ritu Bahri and himself sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “This case was listed for 21st May, 2024 but it is being taken up today, especially keeping in view that the Supreme Court has started examining the effect of forest fire in the entire State of Uttarakhand. The main reason for the Supreme Court to take up the issue is to protect the entire forest area because it is a big loss to the entire environment.”

                         As things stands, the Division Bench enunciates in para 3 that, “Keeping in view the above steps taken by the Supreme Court, we are informing the Chief Secretary that 26 hectares of land has been offered to the High Court at Golapar in Haldwani for making the new High Court. Out of this 26 hectares of land, 75% of land is full of trees. So the Court does not want to uproot any of the tree to make a new High Court. Keeping in view the above fact, we are not using that land.”

                        In hindsight, the Division Bench then envisages in para 4 that, “When the Uttarakhand was created, the sanctioned strength of High Court was only three Judges. Within 20 years, the strength has gone to 11. For in the next 50 years, the strength is likely to go at least eight times. So within next 50 years, we need land for 80 Judges, So, we are giving direction to the Chief Secretary to apply her mind to the above directions.”

                          To recapitulate, the Division Bench recalls in para 5 that, “This State was carved out from the State of Uttar Pradesh on 09.11.2000 and its capital was established at Dehradun temporarily and High Court was established in Nainital.”    

                           Frankly speaking, the Division Bench observes in para 6 that, “Nainital city is a well known tourist place and the people used to come here from different parts of the country and from abroad as well and traffic congestion is one of the biggest problem in the city.”

                To put things in perspective, the Division Bench while outlining the difficulties faced by the litigants in coming to Nainital envisages in para 7 that, “Since the date, when the High Court was established, every year, the strength of Advocates are increasing and as on today, more than 1200 Lawyers are those who are regularly practising here and out of 1200 lawyers, about 400 lawyers are young lawyers, who are facing the shortage of residential houses and the houses that are available, they are too expensive and during the peak tourist season, the owners used to compel Advocates to leave their houses, so that they may use their houses as “home stays”. Apart from this, the cost of living in Nainital is very high, as it is tourist place. The State consists of 13 districts and most of them are hilly areas and there are so many remote places from where poor litigants has to come to Nainital to file their cases, which would takes 2-3 days to reach Nainital.”  

   Further, the Division Bench lays bare in para 8 that, “Apart from this, the poor litigants cannot afford expenses towards their visit to Nainital, even for some time, they cannot bear the counsel’s fee. Certainly, the Courts are meant for litigants to get easy and accessible justice, therefore, their grievances, problems and hardships are required to be considered.”

   Do note, the Division Bench notes in para 9 that, “One of the most crucial aspects is about medical facilities and despite the intervention by this Court in so many public interest litigations, medical facilities are not improved. There is no private nursing home in Nainital and in emergency situation, there is no medical facility. Not only this, even land and space is not available for expansion of existing B.D. Pandey Hospital, even doctors are not available and if they are available, they are not interested to serve in Nainital. Since last so many years, there was no Cardiologist in Nainital and the Cardiologists, who are available, they are demanding a very high salary.”

          Be it noted, the Division Bench notes in para 10 that, “This Court also gets information that one of the well practising lawyers of this Court Mr. Paresh Tripathi died due to lack of medical facilities.”

                             Furthermore, the Division Bench while revealing the connectivity problem to reach Nainital states in para 11 that, “Another aspect is with regard to connectivity to Nainital. There is only one mode to reach Nainital and that is by Road and out of which 35-40 km is completely hill area.”

          What’s more, the Division Bench recalls in para 12 that, “Furthermore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court directed that all the Courts of the country should run through hybrid mode i.e. virtually and physically and efforts should be made for paper less work and Advocates should be encouraged to file their petitions by way of e-filing. Advocates can also argue their case and represent their client in the Courts virtually from any place of the country or from abroad.”

      As a corollary, the Division Bench postulates in para 13 that, “Keeping in view all these difficulties, which are facing by the litigants, public at large, young lawyers for the last so many years, a demand was raised by the advocate for shifting of the High Court, therefore, Full Court was convened and the Full Court of this Court by resolution dated 15.09.2022, resolved to shift this Court.”

              As we see, the Division Bench then propounds in para 14 that, “We have perused the resolution dated 15.09.2022 passed by the Full Court. Since, the Full Court has resolved to shift the High Court from Nainital, therefore, it should now come to its logical conclusion.”

         On a pragmatic note, the Division Bench then expounds in para 15 that, “After passing of the resolution, a process was initiated and land was identified at Golapur in Haldwani for shifting of the High Court. After thorough examination, what State Authorities realise that land identified at Golapur at Haldwani, measuring about 26 hectares is surrounded by dense forest, which is 75% of the land earmarked for the establishment of the High Court. So this Court does not want to uproot any of the trees to make a new High Court.”

                          Truly speaking, the Division Bench observes in para 16 that, “Every institution is established with a vision to remain established for a long period, therefore, we also want that High Court should be established at a new location so that there will be no need to shift it again in the next 50 years.”

 To be sure, the Division Bench reveals in para 17 that, “Keeping in view the larger public interest, hardships faced by litigants and young lawyers, lack of medical facilities and connectivity and the fact that in more than 75% of the cases, State Government is party and Government has to spend a huge amount on their TA & DA, shifting of High Court from Nainital is required.”

             In addition, the Division Bench points out in para 18 that, “In post lunch sessions, members of this High Court Bar including Senior Advocates and young Lawyers, address their grievances. We also think over it. We have considered their grievances, particularly, the grievances of the young lawyers.”

               Needless to say, the Division Bench specifies in para 19 that, “Ms. Radha Raturi, Chief Secretary, State of Uttarakhand along with Mr. R.K. Sudhanshu, Principal Secretary to Chief Minister appears through V.C.”           

             Most significantly, the Division Bench then holds in para 20 that, “In the above facts and circumstances, we are formulating a procedure to expedite the issue of shifting of High Court from Nainital:

a. The Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand is directed to locate the best suitable land for establishment of High Court, for residential accommodation for Judges, Judicial Officers, Staff, Court Rooms, Conference Hall, Chambers for at least 7,000 lawyers, canteen, parking place, etc. and it has good medical facilities in the area and good connectivity. This entire exercise shall be completed by the Chief Secretary within a month and the Chief Secretary shall submit his report to this Court by 07.06.2024.

b. Since opinion of practising lawyers is also very essential, therefore, Registrar General of this Court is directed to open a portal by 14.05.2024 and lawyers are free to give their choice by opting “YES” if they are interested for shifting of High Court and “NO” if they are not interested by indicating their enrolment number, date and signature. They shall exercise their option by 31.05.2024 and this date will not be extended.

c. Opinion of the public at large is also very essential, since this State consists of 13 districts and the litigants come from every part of the State including very remote hilly area located in high altitude, therefore, such litigants or persons may also give their choice in the same manner i.e. if they are in favour of shifting, they say “YES” and if they are not interested, they say “NO”. Such person should also mention his Aadhar Card Number and date and the deadline for exercising this option would be the same i.e. 31.05.2024 and this date will not be extended.

d. This opinion will be furnished on the official website of the High Court by 31.05.2024 positively, and no further time shall be granted for this purpose. Registrar General of this High Court is directed to issue public notice in two local newspapers (Hindi and English) having wide circulation in the entire area of State of Uttarakhand including Garhwal and Kumaon regions i.e. Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Times of India and Hindustan Times by 14.05.2024 so that options shall be exercised on or before the deadline of 31.05.2024.

e. The High Court Bar Association may also suggest of the land for shifting of the High Court.

f. A Committee is also being constituted comprising of Registrar General of Uttarakhand High Court, Principal Secretary, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs, State of Uttarakhand and Principal Secretary, Home, State of Uttarakhand, Two Senior Advocates, one member from Uttarakhand State Bar Council nominated by its Chairman and another from Bar Council of India, nominated by its Chairman. This Committee will be headed by the Registrar General of Uttarakhand High Court. This Committee, after going through opinions, will submit its report by 07.06.2024 to this Court in a sealed cover. Thereafter, recommendation of Government about suitable land for establishment of the High Court and result of options will be placed before the Chief Justice.”

  Still more, the Division Bench directs in para 21 that, “List on 25.06.2024.”

           Finally, the Division Bench then concludes by directing in para 22 of this notable judgment that, “Let a free certified copy of this order be given to the learned Advocate General for the State of Uttarakhand, the President of the High Court Bar Association, Chairman of the State Bar Council and Chairman of the Bar Council of India so that immediate action be initiated in order to implement the aforesaid directions.”

           No doubt, the Uttarakhand High Court has decided to take a quantum leap forward by taking the most courageous decision to formulate the proper procedure the issue of shifting of High Court from Nainital. The connectivity to Nainital is not so good and medical facilities are also lacking. On the contrary, Rishikesh is well connected and there is proper AIIMS hospital and the overall medical facilities are also upto the mark. Above all, Rishikesh is not as heavily populated as Dehradun and so there is considerable space for court complexes to come up easily! It is a no-brainer that this laudable judgment clearly aims to address the environmental concerns and so also improve the access to justice which is so imperative and indispensable to ensure the smooth functioning of the judicial system in the interests of the litigants and people at large. There can be certainly no denying or disputing it!  

Sanjeev Sirohi

Read More