Saturday, February 28, 2009

Srikrishna Inquiry and Developments in the Madras High Court

As I wrote earlier, the Chennai developments are a great cause for concern. If there is one silver lining in all the distressing news of the last few weeks, it is that Justice B.N. Srikrishna, a member of our blogging community, heads the inquiry committee constituted by the Chief Justice of India. Justice Srikrishna is known for his fearless commitment to the truth, and our best wishes are with him as he embarks on his difficult mission.

At our invitation, Ananth Padmanabhan, an advocate in the Madras High Court, has sent us this first-hand account of developments there. Like him, we await Justice Srikrishna's findings and hope that normalcy is restored in Tamil Nadu's courts.

GUEST POST by ANANTH PADMANABHAN

Most of you would be aware of the indefinite boycott by the Madras High Court Advocates Association to protest against the police atrocities committed within the Madras High Court campus on the 19th of February, 2009. I would like to give a quick sense of what had transpired on that day, and some of the background events culminating in these acts of mindless violence.

The First Boycott

From the end of January, 2009, lawyers of the Madras High Court had been on a boycott to protest against human rights violations against Tamils in Sri Lanka. This being an issue closely linked with Tamil pride, the atmosphere was charged and rife with emotions. In this melee entered Mr. Subramanian Swamy with his public interest zeal to be heard in an unconnected litigation to do with the Chidambaram temple. So far so good. It was unfortunate that he had to be present in court on a day when the boycott was at its peak. Then entered the lawyers into the court room of Misra J. and Chandru J. with rotten egg missiles. Mr. Swamy was pelted, and the infuriated judges recommended contempt action to the Acting Chief Justice.

The Ill-Fated Day

On 19th February, Court Hall 1 was jam packed as everyone was curious to see the fate of the suo motu contempt action. The Hon’ble Actg. Chief Justice was pleased to post the matter before a Full Bench of five judges on the 11th of March, 2009. Response was sought from the State of Tamil Nadu on this incident.

It is sometime just before the commencement of lunch that the powder keg was set on fire. The facts are still in doubt and it is for the Srikrishna Commission, now appointed by the Supreme Court, to put an end to these doubts. Based on newspaper reports and general gossip, all I can say is that the police wanted to arrest 15 lawyers whose names were linked with the Subramanian Swamy episode. Some other lawyers had in the meantime barged into the police station demanding an FIR to be lodged against Mr. Swamy for certain casteist references made by him. One thing led to the other, and soon, all we see is images on NDTV and CNN-IBN of police breaking up cars and lawyers hurling stones for self-protection. I can safely say that the police went berserk and beat up every single person seen in a white shirt or sari or generally perceived as being associated with the courts. To put it in a line, it was direct confrontation between the lawyers and law-enforcers. There is proof of extensive damage to vehicles and court property. Unfortunately, some of the judges were also caught in the cross fire. While the media has been focusing on the beatings taken by a couple of High Court judges, one can't overlook the fact that some of the judges in the small causes courts, city civil courts and family courts, housed in the same court complex, were brutally assaulted.

The Road Ahead

The Madras High Court even today bears close semblance to a war zone. The Supreme Court in the meantime has taken charge, with a couple of PILs being filed. As already mentioned, the Srikrishna Commission is due to submit its report in two weeks. The Tamil Nadu Government has promised to look into the monetary losses suffered by lawyers and do the needful. All I'm doing is to stare at the Madras High Court calendar hanging in front of me and count the number of working days we have had this year. It is less than 15.

1 comment:

Red said...

The EPW carries an interesting account of the incident as well, which discusses amongst other things the ways in which various bar associations take the decision to boycott courts. It also challenges the notion that lawyers (as professionals) are required to be apolitical. As he concludes

"One may have a different opinion on what must happen in Sri Lanka or on whether the lawyers must even go on strike. The Bar too must introspect on a variety of issues. But that should not lead one to hold a brief for the police and their action on 19 February. It is also not correct to blame the bar and its members for their association and affiliation with political
parties. It is important to note that the Bar being a microcosm of the complex socio-political mosaic that determines
Tamil Nadu’s democratic discourse, the course correction on the direction of politics will have to take place in the larger
mosaic of politics"

http://epw.in/uploads/articles/13217.pdf