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A dream finally comes true for north Karnataka

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Fighting for a bench: A file picture of president of Dharwad Bar Association B.D. Hiremath breaking his 19-day indefinite fast in April 1999. The seer of Murugha Math is seen.
Fighting for a bench: A file picture of president of Dharwad Bar Association B.D. Hiremath breaking his 19-day indefinite fast in April 1999. The seer of Murugha Math is seen.

Girish Pattanashetti

Chief Justice of India to open Circuit Bench building on the WALMI campus, near Dharwad, today

B.D. Jatti raised the issue of High Court Bench at Hubli-Dharwad in 1962

Foundation stone for Circuit Bench in Dharwad laid on August 14, 2005

DHARWAD: “We have already indicated the necessity of increasing the strength of the Judges of the High Court. To obviate the necessity of litigants coming to Bangalore from these distance places, we think that the question of establishing a Bench of the High Court in a central place in these areas will have to be seriously considered.”

This was one of the observations made by the Fact Finding Committee (States Reorganisation) headed by the former Minister M. Seshadri, which was appointed by the Government of Mysore to investigate relevant facts relating to the Kannada areas outside Mysore in its report dated October 28, 1954. These observations are found in Chapter 12 of the report under the head Administrative Problems “that would arise in the event of the integration of different areas into a composite State”.

The necessity of setting up a Bench of the High Court in a place other than Bangalore was felt even before the unification of Karnataka.

When Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan formally inaugurates the Circuit Bench building on the Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI) premises near Dharwad on Friday, he would be fulfilling the more than five-decade-old demand of the people of the region.

The issue of a High Court Bench started taking shape with the then Chief Minister B.D. Jatti raising the issue of setting up High Court bench at Hubli-Dharwad in September 1962. The issue gained momentum in 1975, when the then Law Minister D.K. Naikar secured signatures of 75 MLAs for the demand of a Bench and secured Cabinet approval on December 5, 1975. The issue was discussed with the Chief Justice of High Court and a proposal was sent to the Union Government. With no progress on the issue, the Dharwad Bar Association approved a resolution demanding setting of a High Court Bench on June 5, 1978.

The demand received a shot in the arm in 1979, when the then Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court D.M. Chandrashekhar favoured setting up a Bench outside Bangalore.

Commission

On December 14, 1983, the Union Government extended the jurisdiction of the Justice Jaswant Singh Commission, which was constituted to look into the demand of High Court Bench in Uttar Pradesh, to look into the demand for Benches in Guwahati, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The commission could not complete its hearings in Karnataka owing to elections in 1985. In its report, it did not make any comment on the demand for High Court Bench in Hubli-Dharwad and at Guwahati. Instead it gave the guidelines for setting up High Court Benches.

Agitation

The demand for the Bench took the shape of an agitation in 1991 with the Dharwad Bar Association setting up “High Court Peetha Sthapana Horata Kendra Kriya Samiti.” The agitation organised public meetings at Hubli-Dharwad, which spread to other areas with lawyers and members of various organisations participating in it. A relay fast was launched which went on for 136 days.

The agitation was intensified in 1992. The then Chief Minister, Veerappa Moily, convinced the protestors to withdraw their agitation and passed a resolution in both Houses of the legislature for setting up of High Court Benches in Hubli-Dharwad and Gulbarga. However, the Union Government said that there was no progress on the issue as the State Government had not sent any specific proposal.

Intensified

In 1996, the agitation became more intense under the leadership of Dharwad Bar Association President B.D. Hiremath, with lawyers boycotting courts for about 100 days. The advocates suspended the agitation following invitation for discussion from the Chief Justice.

Although the J.H. Patel Government reiterated its commitment for establishing High Court bench at Hubli-Dharwad and wrote twice to the Chief Justice of Karnataka (in 1998 and 1999), there was hardly any development on the issue. On March 27, 1999 Mr. Hiremath and some advocates launched an indefinite fast. The fast lasted for 19 days as the Government gave specific assurances on the issue.

Support

While Mr. Hiremath almost became the face of the agitation, several organisations, writers, poets, farmers, general public and political parties stood behind him to support to the agitation and contributed to the struggle in their own way. The agitation weakened to some extent with differences among the protestors over the location of the Bench.

The agitation gained strength in September 2004, when the then Chief Justice of High Court of Karnataka N.K. Jain rejected the proposal to set up the Bench on the ground that the volume of cases coming up before the High Court from north Karnataka did not warrant establishing a separate Bench.

Subsequently the then Chief Minister, N. Dharam Singh, led an all-party delegation to appeal to the Chief Justice to reconsider his decision to which the latter agreed.

Mr. Jain favoured setting up the Benches at Hubli-Dharwad and Gulbarga. In February 2005, the then Chief Justice N.K. Sodhi set up a three-judge committee to look into the feasibility of setting up of Circuit Benches.

The committee visited both the places and submitted its report. Mr. Sodhi laid the foundation stone for Circuit Benches in Dharwad on August 14, 2005 and at Gulbarga on September 18, 2005.

The construction work which was going on at a slow pace picked up only when after Chief Justice of High Court Cyriac Joseph spoke in strong words and fixed the date for making the benches functional.

Though the construction work has not been completed, arrangements have been made for making the Benches functional on the scheduled date.

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