By: Mohit Behl
Dharamsala: For 32 days now, Dharamsala roads have been reverberating with protest slogans, with lawyers from the local bar association carrying on with their “rasto roko andolan” to demand removal of divisional commissioner Onkar Sharma. On Saturday as well, lawyers halted traffic in front of the district courts at 11:30 am for one hour, as if a daily ritual, and the police reacted accordingly – making alternate route available and booking few lawyers, a daily ritual for them too. The face-off may look local, but it has actually taken greater dimensions as bar associations from other parts of the state too are being dragged into it, besides the local media too being accused of taking sides.
The protest started on February 23 when, as the lawyers claim, the divisional commissioner changed revenue court timings from the afternoon to 11 am. While the divisional commissioner is said to have reasoned that the new timings will help clear backlog of cases, lawyers claim to be busy in the morning attending to civil & criminal cases in other courts. “He changed the old practice of afternoon timings for his own comfort, and furthermore started dismissing cases in absence of lawyers,” a prominent advocate said on condition of anonymity. But lately the problem seems to have taken new dimensions as lawyers claim changing the court timings is not the real issue. Talking to HimVani, Dharamsala Bar Association’s president Tek Chand Rana alleged, “Media is projecting a wrong picture of our agitation. We are protesting for removal/transfer of the divisional commissioner due to his ‘dictator-like’ attitude towards the lawyers & general public. His “divide & rule policy & derogatory remarks against the lawyer community has further worsened the relations between him and the bar association.”
He further alleged that under pressure from the divisional commissioner, the local patwari association & revenue officers’ association gave newspaper articles favouring him and against the lawyers. The lawyers have also filed a deformation case against a prominent state newspaper, while the police are said to be preparing to arrest lawyers after registering a number of cases against them over the last fortnight. Further, the divisional commissioner is said to have approached bar associations in other cities, but bar associations of Chamba, Kangra, and Palampur have reportedly stood behind the protesting lawyers. Even the chairman of Bar Council of Himachal has given a written complaint against him to the chief secretary. Tek Chand Rana claimed that the divisional commissioner is now approaching their association indirectly for striking a compromise with them, but he ruled out any such thing happening.
Surprisingly, the bar association has even had meetings with the Chief Minister and the revenue minister, but they too have failed to intervene in the matter. While lawyers are not ready to settle for anything less than suspension of the said officer, the issue has also started getting political colours as it has been alleged that the divisional commissioner is close to the CM.
The lawyers have now decided to further strengthen their agitation by holding road blockades for one-and-half-hours daily and by stopping traffic randomly anywhere in the city. Police on the other hand have been registering cases on the lawyers on a daily basis as the protests are also being video-graphed for further action. As no solution seems to be in sight, the general public has been the real loser in this tussle between the two parties. But, leaving aside the concerns of the two parties involved, the government’s silence over the issue seems to be the real issue.