Money Before Azadi For Lawyers

25 March 2008
The Telegraph

Srinagar: When it’s money, azadi can wait - at least on evidence served up by Srinagar lawyers. The high court bar association here, unabashedly in the forefront of the “freedom movement”, has for the first time in two decades extended its palm before the state government. At stake is a sum of Rs 25 lakh. The lawyers, prone to treat the government as a pariah, have routed the demand through the high court and dressed it in political language. Their writ petition alleges that the government discriminates against them because of their “political beliefs”. The lawyers claim the government has sent funds to the Jammu Bar under a scheme to improve lawyers’ knowledge of jurisprudence and information technology, but not to the Kashmir Bar. The government had decided to set up “knowledge management funds” for lawyers last year, both in Srinagar and Jammu, and promised Rs 25 lakh to each Bar. “We have been ignored because we are part of the (separatist) movement,” Kashmir Bar president Nazir Ahmad Ronga said. When militancy started in Kashmir in 1989, Srinagar’s lawyers were among the first to throw their weight behind the “freedom struggle’’ and are still committed to it. The Kashmir Bar was till recently a constituent of the Hurriyat Conference, and parted ways only after the conglomeration split. It has been boycotting all pro-government functions and in the past 18 years, never approached any government with demands, let alone a written one. “Earlier, they would just protest that the government was discriminatory towards them,’’ a former Kashmir Bar official said. Law commissioner Akhtar Kochak denied the Bar’s allegation. “We have not released the money so far to either the Jammu Bar or the Kashmir Bar,’’ he said. Kashmir Bar president Ronga said there was nothing political about the demand: “We are generating revenue worth crores by way of court fees and stamp duties. We are not begging; we claim it as a matter of right.” A senior government official acknowledged that the Bar had paid “a heavy price’’ for backing separatism. “A huge complex housing the high court and the district court has come up in Jammu with spacious chambers for the advocates. A similar complex was proposed for Srinagar many years ago but its construction is getting prolonged,’’ he said. The official said the lawyers had annoyed the government by several recent actions. In 2006, they boycotted a judicial function here that was attended by the then President, A.P.J. Abul Kalam, and Supreme Court judges. Last year, they had clashed with judicial employees over an invitation to deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig to a function on the court premises.