Lawyers, Litigants At Rohini Court Rue Canteen Closure
Lawyers and litigants at the Rohini court in Delhi are having a tough time with all the canteens in the court building and the chamber block being shut for almost four months now.
The lawyers are now dependent on food from nearby restaurants or eat street food which many are finding hard on the palate.
The canteen on the second floor of the court complex has been shut since January 31, while locks were placed on the canteens on the ground floor and eighth floor of the chamber building last month.
Canteen in courts, rue many lawyers, is a basic amenity and should not have been shut by the administration and the District Judge without any alternate arrangement.
Even the Bombay High Court has said that "Canteen is a necessity in each and every court".
Advocate Jairam Garg, who has his major part of practice in Rohini court, says, "We are forced to go out to nearby restaurants and vendors for food even in this scorching heat. It is sheer mismanagement by the DJ."
Advocate Tarun Shokeen, former member of the Rohini Court Bar Association, says he is privy to many illegalities in the manner the canteens were being run and the same is now shut without any alternate arrangement.
The canteens at Rohini court have been embroiled in controversy for many years with some advocates questioning the illegality in the grant of licence, payment of rent etc.
Advocate Birender Sangwan says, "The closure of canteen is an act to cover up the wrongs. How can the District Judge close all the canteens without making alternate arrangements. All the canteens have been closed because some lawyers, including myself, started questioning the illegal manner in which work contracts were being given and massive corruption."
Letter to CJI and Delhi HC CJ
In April 2019, a lawyer (identity withheld) wrote to the Delhi High Court Chief Justice and the Chief Justice of India alleging several illegalities in the administration of Rohini court, including the cafeterias.
He had alleged that the two canteens are being run in the chamber building without any prior permission and that the district judge (DJ) is pocketing the entire rent besides taking a bribe for giving out the contract.
Besides this, the lawyer urged that an inquiry be ordered as the DJ was not acting on important matters like security, parking etc., (despite many incidents of shooting taking place inside the court complex) and was much eager about his elevation.
Prior to writing the letters, the same advocate had made an RTI query on April 1, 2019, seeking details of the licence of the canteen in the chamber building, how the tender was issued and granted, name of the company which was running the canteen and the rent being generated out of it.
Soon after the RTI query and just before a response to it was given, both the canteens in the chamber building were shut.
It was then that the RTI plea was responded to and the response read: "During an inspection by the staff of the caretaking branch on the ground floor of the lawyers' chamber building at Rohini court complex, the canteen which was being run unauthorizedly has been blocked/ removed. As per the report of the caretaking branch, locks have been put there. Therefore, desired information does not exist".
Minutes of the Maintenance Committee meeting in 2017 reveal that even the high court had asked the Rohini court to furnish an undertaking that no canteen is being run in the chamber block unauthorizedly (without permission from the court administration).
With regard to the canteen on the second floor of the court building, one of the office bearers say the canteen has been closed only for past 15 days but response to one of the RTI queries made by advocate Birender Sangwan reveals "there is no canteen running in the court complex after January 31, 2019".
Writ petition in 2015 for statutory dues to canteen workmen
Back in year 2015, Sangwan had filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court impleading various government departments Delhi District Courts, including the Rohini court, as one of the respondents and rued non-compliance of labour laws and deduction and direct remittance of statutory dues payable to contract workmen employed in the canteen.
Sangwan had also highlighted employment of child labour in the Rohini court canteen in respect of which an FIR was also registered.
In August 2015, a bench headed by Justice S Ravindra Bhat had called for a status report from the district court wherein it was claimed on behalf of the District Judges that amounts are being disbursed by the contractors to their workers by remittance through electronic clearance services mode and that the district courts tried to ensure compliance with the statutory provisions vis-a-vis deductions under the Employees' Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, the Employee's State Insurance Act, 1948 etc.
Besides directing timely remittances into accounts of every worker, the high court had on August 17, 2015, ordered the Delhi government and district judge to "Ensure that a dynamic list of all employees engaged should be updated on a month-to-month basis with relevant bank account details and EPF/ESI numbers to be maintained both by the contractor/service provider as well as in the establishment of the principal employer/government/public agency".
On the aspect of child labour, the court had on September 22, 2019 ordered that "The District Judges of all courts are directed to inspect each establishment in the Court Complex under their jurisdiction, where contract labour is employed to ensure compliance with provisions of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986".
The Contempt Plea
In November 2018, Sangwan moved a contempt plea against District Judge (North West) Rajnish Bhatnagar ruing non-compliance of the 2015 orders.
While the high court was seized of the contempt plea, the building maintenance the committee called a meeting on January 7 and decided to shut the canteen. It reasoned the closure on the complaints received by the Rohini Court Bar Association about the quality of food and the licence of the contractor having expired last December.
The contempt petition was disposed of on March 20 by the Delhi High Court with Justice Najmi Waziri directing the District Judge to comply with the directions passed in August 2015, which called upon him to maintain a dynamic list of all employees engaged with relevant bank account details and EPF/ESI numbers.
The canteen has been shut since January 31.
An office bearer of the Bar Association says tenders have been invited for running the canteens but refused to talk about allegations of corruption.
One of the officials of the administration department also refused to speak on the matter.
Read the Order Here