Historical Perspective

Insignia in the Chief Justice’s Court in the old building of the High Court


Odisha1 was originally a part of the Bengal province during the colonial rule. On 22nd March 1912, a new province of Bihar and Orissa was formed. However, it was the Calcutta High Court which exercised jurisdiction over the said new province. This changed with the Patna High Court coming into existence with effect from 26th February 1916. Eleven Judgeships (Districts) in Bihar and one in Odisha were subject to the jurisdiction of the Patna High Court.

1 The formal alteration of the name of the state from ‘Orissa’ to ‘Odisha’ was made effective by the Orissa (Alteration of Name) Act, 2011. The Government of Odisha on 21st March 2012, issued the Odisha Adaptation of Laws Order, 2012 making it effective from 1st November 2011. The above change was reflected by the corresponding changes in the text of the Constitution of India. However, the corresponding change in the name of the High Court awaits the change to the Orissa High Court Order, 1948.

Circuit Court at Cuttack

It was ordained in the Letters Patent that one or more judges of the Patna High Court would visit Orissa by way of circuit to deal with the cases there. As a result, the Patna High Court began sitting in circuit at Cuttack from 18th May 1916. An Advocate General for Odisha was appointed. The District and Sessions Judge of Cuttack functioned as the Registrar of the Patna High Court in circuit. Welcoming the Judges at the first sitting of the Circuit Court at Cuttack, the President of the Cuttack Bar Association, Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das expressed the hope that a permanent Bench would soon be established at Cuttack.

Four of the districts of Orissa at the relevant time, namely Cuttack, Balasore, Puri and Angul were under the jurisdiction of a single district judge. Sambalpur was under the jurisdiction of the Sambalpur-Manbhum District Judge. This situation continued till 1st April, 1936 when the separate province of Orissa was formed. From then on, there were two District judges one at Berhampur exercising jurisdiction over Ganjam, Koraput and Puri and the other at Cuttack exercising Jurisdiction over Cuttack, Balasore and Sambalpur Districts.

Meanwhile, there was a growing demand for Orissa to have its own High Court with several representations being submitted to the Government. The High Court Bar Association at Cuttack adopted a Resolution on 26th July, 1938 demanding a separate High Court for Orissa.

By resolution dated 15th August 1942, the Government of Orissa constituted a committee to examine a question of establishing a High Court for Orissa. This committee comprised Sri Bira Kishore Ray, the then Advocate General, Odisha as Chairman and Sri Bichitrananda Das, Member of Legislative Assembly, Rai Bahadur Chintamani Acharya, President of High Court Bar Association at Cuttack, Sri D.N. Narsingh Rao, Advocate, Berhampur as Members and J.E. Maher, Superintendent and Remembrancer of Legal Affairs, Odisha as the Secretary.

The Committee’s report was published on 31st December 1943. Consequent upon the government accepting the Committee’s recommendations the Governor of Orissa submitted an address to the Governor General of India on 3rd March, 1948 that a High Court, be constituted for the Province of Orissa. On 30th April 1948, the Governor-General of India in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 229(1) of the Government of India Act, 1935 issued the Orissa High Court Order, 1948 providing for constitution of the High Court for the Province of Orissa from 5th July 1948. Subsequently, by Orissa High Court (Amendment) Order 1948, the date of formation was changed to 26 July, 1948.

The Old High Court Building of 1913

The High Court of Orissa commences

The High Court was established on 26th July 1948 at Cuttack thus fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of the Odia people. The High Court started with four Judges including the Chief Justice, Justice B.K. Ray who held office till 31st October 1951 and Justice Jagannadha Das succeeded him. Justice Das was followed by Justice Lingaraj Panigrahi as Chief Justice from 4th March 1953. Justice R.L. Narsimham took oath as the Chief Justice on 22nd March 1956.

The Tower of the High Court

Judge Strength

The High Court began with around 1900 cases. At the time of its 30th Foundation Day in July 1978, the pendency was 7057. This included Civil and Criminal Cases. In the District Courts, during the same period, Civil and Criminal cases rose from 30,000 to 87,000. By 1978, the sanctioned strength of Judges rose from 4 to 8. It was enhanced to 12 in 1989, 16 in 1992 and 22 in 2004. As of 31st January 2021, it stood at 27. By the time of release of this report, it stands further increased to 33 of which 22 are permanent judges and 11 are additional Judges.

The subordinate judiciary also expanded over the years from 10 District Judge cadre officers, 11 Subordinate Judges and 36 Munsifs in 1948, the number has grown steadily over the years to 240 District Judge cadre officers, 261 Senior Civil Judge Cadre officers (erstwhile Subordinate Judge) and 457 Civil Judge cadre officers (erstwhile Munsif) at present.

Increase in litigation and the number of courts has meant a corresponding increase in the number of support staff. From only one Registrar, a Deputy Registrar and an Assistant Registrar in 1948, the number of officers in the High Court Registry has presently grown to 29 of whom, 16 are Judicial Officers, 12 are staff of the High Court establishment and 1 is a government officer.

The new High Court building inaugurated on 11th November, 2012

The High Court Building

The High Court started functioning from an existing Civil Court building from 26th July, 1948 onwards. This was a two-storied structure in brick-red color, constructed in 1913.

In Bhavani Shankar Tripathi vs. The Government of Orissa 1992 (1) OLR 344, the Division bench of Orissa High Court held that the state legislature had no authority to enact a law to shift the seat of the High Court of Orissa from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar. To meet the growing demand of space, a plan was drawn up for an eight storied old building with carpet area of nearly 1.68 lakh square feet in conformity with the modern-day architecture blended with traditional aesthetic sense. Construction of the building commenced in the year 2008 and was completed in the year 2012 involving a cost of around Rs.65 crores. It has provision for 25 court rooms including the new courtroom of the Chief justice, Judges’ lounge, video conferencing hall, chambers of the Advocate General, Senior Advocates’ lounge, Bar Association Hall apart from basement parking for two-wheelers of employees with adequate security arrangements. The building was inaugurated on 11th November, 2012 and made functional on 2nd January, 2014.

The new High Court building was inaugurated on 11th November, 2012. The century-old court building has now been designated as a heritage building. However, some of the courts and offices of the registry are still functioning from there.

A separate four-storied administrative block was inaugurated on 17th May 2018, to accommodate various Administrative Sections along with the High Court Dispensary, Physiotherapy Centre, Homeopathy Dispensary, a branch of the State Bank of India and the High Court Sub-Post Office. Subsequently, two floors were added in 2020.

Another six storied ‘Annexe Building’ was inaugurated on 16th December, 2019. It is constructed to accommodate Advocates’ Clerks, the e-library of the Bar, the Women’s Bar Room and the chambers of Standing Counsel of the Central and State Governments.

Administrative Block