Kolkata: On 28 February, the principal of a college in Kolkata personally appeared before a Calcutta high court judge, seeking justice for 218 students barred from appearing in a university examination, amid an ongoing lawyers’ strike in protest against delays in appointing new judges. On Monday, the cease work at the Calcutta high court entered the third week as three associations of lawyers unanimously agreed to extend the strike.

With over 250,000 pending cases, the court has 27 judges and 45 vacancies. Lawyers claim they are protesting against the step-motherly attitude of the centre in filling up the vacancies. “Protracted discussions among members were held to review the present situation," Jayanta Mitra, president, Bar Library Club and a former advocate general wrote in a letter to the chief justice of the Calcutta high court. Because no “discernible effort" has been made by the centre to address the crisis, members of the association have decided to “desist from attending professional work" until its next meeting on 13 March, he added.

But Soma Bhattacharya, the principal who once aspired to become a lawyer, couldn’t wait for the impasse to end. Examinations were set to start on 6 March, and the University of Calcutta was firm in its stand that Vivekananda College for Women had admitted more students than it was allowed to. Faced with students being barred from appearing in the examination, Bhattacharya argued her case herself.

The university was represented by its deputy inspector of colleges Nishat Alam, who, too, appeared on his own. They argued at length, and in the end Bhattacharya was able to convince judge Arindam Sinha that there was “some miscommunication" between the college and the university over admission norms and that it now threatened the future of some 218 students.

Sinha ordered the university to allow the students to appear in the examination as an interim measure, pending further legal tussle over the dispute. Not everyone is as lucky as the students of Vivekananda College for Women, admit lawyers, but claim there is no other way to address the problem. The union ministry of law has not even acknowledged receipt of the joint representation made by the three associations of lawyers in Kolkata, which collectively represent some 9,000 lawyers, said Riju Ghosal, treasurer of Bar Library Club.

Another forum, The Bar Association, has reached out to the 53 parliamentarians from the state, requesting them to take up the issue in the two houses, said president Uttam Majumdar. “We have also written to the two Union ministers from the state (Babul Supriyo and S.S. Ahluwalia), seeking their intervention," he added.

The strength of judges at the Calcutta high court could fall further. Three judges are set to retire within months, and two are to be transferred to other courts. For replacement, the Union law ministry has cleared only three names, according to the lawyers cited above.

If the Union ministry didn’t immediately intervene, lawyers of Calcutta high court will seek to widen their agitation. They have made an appeal to lawyers across the state to join them in their cease work on 16 March if the centre did nothing to resolve the crisis, said Majumdar.

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