The clash erupted when one group of lawyers prevented another from entering the court.
The premises of the Orissa High Court in Bhubaneswar virtually turned into a battlefield today as hundreds of advocates jostled with each other amid an ongoing strike against the assault of a lawyer by police two months ago. Lawyers of the Odisha high court, who have been protesting since the incident occurred in Cuttack on August 28, have demanded the arrest of all the police personnel involved in the assault.
Lawyers have refused to end the strike despite a September 27 ruling by the Supreme Court. Today's standoff occurred after the BJD Legal Front — one of the groups involved in the strike — decided to resume work "in view of the larger interests of the people".
Video footage of the incident showed hundreds of BJD Legal Front members trying to storm into the high court premises even as advocates affiliated to the Orissa High Court Bar Association (OHCBA) barricaded the gates to prevent their entry. Pitched battles erupted, abuses were hurled and some could be seen falling to the ground in the face-off that ensued.
Sources said although some BJD Legal Front lawyers managed to fight their way into the courtrooms, they were unable to resume work in the absence of witnesses and court staffers. Police deployed over 25 platoons on the premises to prevent the situation was deteriorating.
The OHCBA has accused the ruling Biju Janata Dal of creating a divide in lawyer unity by asking its affiliate, the BJD Legal Front, to withdraw from the agitation "instead of resolving the two-month impasse". The association also reiterated that it would continue to impede legal proceedings on the court premises unless the government took action against the policemen concerned.
The lawyer, Debi Prasad Pattanaik, was allegedly assaulted by the police while he was returning home from Cuttack's Nayabazar Market in his car. Odisha police alleged in a note that Mr Pattanaik, who was "driving rashly in a drunk state", had dashed his car against a couple of motorcycles — injuring two people.
The document maintained that although police "saved" Mr Pattanaik from the angry public, he attacked them too. "Due to his violent behaviour, police dealt 4-5 blows with a lathi on his back and brought him to the Chauliaganj police station. People recorded the incident on their mobiles," it added.
The case is being investigated by a director inspector general of the Crime Branch, in keeping with a high court order.