Anatomy of 'justice' in our courts – II
by Radha Rajan on 19 Nov 2010 19 Comments

Running out of the court, the writer confronted the Standing Counsel: “What was the rationale for clubbing my case with that of Traffic Ramaswamy”, the writer demanded. “Go ask the judges”, was the insolent reply. The writer was sure the man was actually playing out a scene when he would be judge someday; this was a depressing and very real possibility.


The writer rushed from court 2 to court 1 to inform the judges that the WP had been transferred from court 2 to court 1. But the Chief Justice and his colleague were not present in court even at 11.30 that morning; the court clerk informed those waiting that the court would sit only at 12.30 p.m.; a good two hours after starting time!


When the judges appeared at 12.30 p.m., there was not a word of apology for keeping us waiting. Taking up PILs for admission and adjournment motions, the court got up promptly at 1.30 p.m. for lunch. The State Prosecutor told me my case would not come up in the afternoon because the court would be taking up only “lunch motion cases” all afternoon. Six days down the drain, but who cared, the prevailing impression being this petitioner and other petitioners did not have 100 things to do.


On Friday, 29 October, the petitioner appeared on time in court 1 at 10.30 in the morning. The Chief Justice was late again and appeared with his colleague at 11.30, one hour behind time and on that day too there was no prior intimation or apology. After running through cases for admission and adjournment motions, the Chief Justice got up at 12.30 p.m., one hour before lunch! The writer was nonplussed. Court 1 sat for just one hour on two consecutive days – on Thursday from 12.30 to 1.30 and on Friday from 11.30 to 12.30.


“Why has the court recessed”, I asked a lady lawyer standing close by. “It is only 12.30.”


“It is Friday isn’t it? All Muslim judges rise at 12.30 for namaz”.


This was probably Nehruvian secularism’s best-kept secret in the country! The writer spoke to several lawyers on the issue and all of them confirmed that every Friday, Muslim judges rose as one at 12.30 p.m. for namaz.


The following questions need to be asked –


-        If the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court was going to rise at 12.30 p.m. on Friday the 29th October, then why did court 1 begin its sitting one hour late on that day?

-        Why did court 1 sit for just one hour on Thursday the 28th October?

-        Does this not constitute disrespect of people who are waiting in these courts and who do not know in advance that the courts will sit late or rise early; and a total disregard for time and democracy?

-        Is it really necessary to cut short court hours by one hour every week for religious reasons?

-        Do Muslim lawyers also abandon courtrooms at 12.30 p.m. every Friday abandoning their clients in the courtroom?

-        Does anything, religious, secular or administrative, warrant curtailing court working hours considering the long journeys that litigants and petitioners make and the long hours they spend in `courtrooms waiting for their cases to be heard?


While the fact that judges rise early for namaz may be the best kept open secret, judges coming late to court by several minutes, sometimes even after one or two hours is a notorious truth which has not been challenged by any lawyer or public-spirited citizen in any court. This is not surprising considering that ordinary citizens would not know how Nehruvian secularism operates in our courts and considering that lawyers maintain craven silence, either because they do not want adverse judgments from judges before whom they have to appear day after day, or because several lawyers accept that because of their closeness to certain judges they cannot take on the judges on any matter of principle.


A lawyer friend of the writer narrated an incident concerning retired Justice Shivappa who served in the Madras High Court. Notorious for arriving late to court, the judge was confronted by an angry lawyer who conveyed his displeasure at being kept waiting repeatedly by the judge. To which Justice Shivappa is reported to have replied that he was not a factory employee to troop into the court at the sound of the factory siren! So incensed was the judge at being challenged by the lawyer in open court that he dismissed every case that came up for hearing that morning; but conscious of the fact that he had made himself doubly notorious for his conduct, Justice Shivappa restored on the same day all cases dismissed by him before lunch.


After wasting seven whole days in futility in the Madras High Court, the writer appeared in court 1 on Monday, Nov. 1st. The writer’s WP, now clubbed with that of Traffic Ramaswamy, a man notorious for filing PILs at the drop of a hat, was listed way down the line with no hope of being heard that day or any day soon thereafter. Getting up with determination at 10.30 in court 1 on Monday, Nov. 1, the writer told the court firmly that she protested having her case clubbed with that of Traffic Ramaswamy by the judges of court 2 without eliciting the views of the petitioner.


The writer also informed the court that she had spent 8 whole days in the Madras High Court and had not been heard even once on her petition. While the Chief Justice maintained silence, the second judge told the petitioner courteously that having waited eight days, she had to wait just one more day and that the case would come up for hearing positively the next day.


On Tuesday, 2 November, the writer appeared in court 1 at 10.30 in the morning. The case was listed at number 8 and came up for hearing within 30 minutes. Requesting the court’s permission to place her arguments briefly but in detail, the writer conveyed to the 1st court the following:

-        The Chennai Corporation did not issue prior notice to temples that they demolished

-        The Corporation also failed to tell the people the Order which authorized them to demolish temples

-        Even if there was such an Order, the Corporation is mandated to adhere to principle of due process in the execution of said Order and should have issued demolition notice so that the temples could approach the courts for redress

-        The Corporation has demolished only Hindu temples while allowing other gross and untenable encroachments to stay

-        The petitioner wishes to draw the attention of the court to the totally unjustifiable encroachment by the Velankanni Church in Besant Nagar which the Corporation knows about but does not wish to act upon

-        Lastly, the Standing Counsel made a very vague or perhaps intentionally selective reference to an interim order of the  Supreme Court

-        The petitioner knows which Order Counsel is referring to and submits respectfully to the court that the operative part of the judgment is in two parts and the state government and the Corporation have failed to abide by the second part of the judgment


Standing Counsel for the Corporation did not speak a word. The Chief Justice turned to the writer first.

-        This court has equal respect for all religions. But to whom can the Corporation give notice? In many temples we do not know who owns the temple. And in many cases we all know that first they will build one small room and call it temple. And after that the person will build a bedroom and then he will live there.


Now we know why the Chief Justice began with “equal respect for all religions” preamble. This was unwarranted generalization and like all generalizations, untrue. Moreover, the court was called upon to address itself only to the violation by the state government to the principles of due process, even-handedness and the justification of allowing fish stalls and political hoardings.


-        “The petitioner wishes to submit to their lordships that the Supreme Court interim order only says that state governments and union territories should not allow any new place of worship on public spaces; but the second part of that order also says that with regard to those places of worship which already exist, all governments should take them up on a case by case basis. This is important milord because when the state government ordered street temples to be demolished by the Corporation it failed to fulfill the second part of the interim order that it will examine all existing temples on a case by case basis.


-        The “case by case” provision by the Supreme Court constitutes due process milord and the state government and the Chennai Corporation have not abided by the Supreme Court order. Standing Counsel cannot quote the order selectively and must justify the fish stalls which came up within two days after demolishing the temple”.


-        What do you have to say to this? She is complaining that there are fish stalls in that place and political hoardings. If what she is alleging is true, then all structures which have come up there must be removed by the 7th of this month. Next hearing 8th November.


-        “The court must take up the issue of gross encroachment by the Velankanni Church....”


-        “Next week”, said the Chief Justice. “We will do this one by one”.  


This was a good beginning and the petitioner was glad the court ordered the fish stalls to be removed. But long experience gained from living in dravidian Tamil Nadu did not permit the writer to rejoice because the writer never lost sight of the fact that even if the fish stalls were removed, they would always come back a month or two months later; but a temple that had been demolished would never be allowed to rise again. The anti-Hindu state government knew this and the court knew this too; and as pointed out earlier, they bank on Hindu inaction and Hindu cowardice. As the judge in court 2 had remarked sarcastically, it is very easy to remove fish-stalls; what he did not need to add was that it is just as easy to put up fish-stalls again while it would be impossible to re-build the demolished temple.


On Monday, 8 November, the writer ascended the court steps determined to insist on due process and the fact that the Chennai Corporation chose not to take note of the encroachment perpetrated by the Velankanni Church with the full connivance of the civic administration. At the back of the mind however the thought persisted – having ordered the removal of fish stalls the court may likely cite the removal as precedent for ordering demolition of more temples.


When the case came up for hearing within the hour, the Corporation Standing Counsel handed the Chief Justice and the second judge in court 1 a sheaf of papers, all pictures of the Corporation removing the fish stalls and political hoardings across the city. The two judges gave the pictures a cursory look and the Chief Justice then turned to the writer. One look at the face of the Chief Justice and the writer knew that she was not going to get a favorable audience that day from the judge.


-        The fish stalls have been removed. That was what you wanted.


-        Milord, the fish stalls were only one part of the petition. The important part was the state government and the Corporation targeting only Hindu temples.....


-        You have said many things in court. We have removed the fish stalls. What more do you want? The government has 100 things to do.


(Strange, one judge tells me the Corporation’s Standing Counsel has100 things to do and now this judge tells me the government has 100 things to do. Are you going to stand around listening to more of this or are you going to walk out now? Walk out now.)


Silencing the inner voice, the writer stood her ground. “Milord, the temples that were demolished without notice?”


-        “Ask all of them to file a petition in the court separately”, flippantly.


Emboldened by the Chief Justice’s palpable hostility and taking his cue from the judge’s generalizations the previous week, Bharatidasan the Corporation Counsel remarked with a smirk, “How to issue notices milord when we do not know the owners”?


“These Hindu temples have walls don’t they? Slap the notices on the walls”, the writer retorted, and without waiting to see or hear more, walked out of the court with the conviction that Hindus and Hindu temples would never get justice from any court in this country as long as Hindu organizations remained impotent, Hindu lawyers pursued only their self-interest and Hindu judges served Nehruvian secularism and the Constitution.


What transpired in court that day was not justice. It was a travesty of justice, a mockery even. All important principles like due process, even-handedness and consistency in implementation had been ignored. Hundreds of Hindu temples demolished without notice did not get justice; no answer to how the Corporation could even approach a banyan tree with a bulldozer; the government was not rebuked for failing to adhere strictly to the Supreme Court injunction to take up all existing structures on a case by case basis. Most significantly, the Chief Justice was not going to allow the petitioner to raise the issue of justice for temples demolished without notice or the issue of the Velankanni church.


A lawyer came running after me to tell me the Chief Justice wanted me back in court. The writer returned preparing herself to listen to a lecture. After all, no one, at least no petitioner walks out of a court before the judges deliver their judgment. The writer was not disappointed. The Chief Justice delivered a pungent lecture on the need to maintain decorum in court and why the petitioner must stay and listen to the (inaudible) judgment.


Decorum, milord? Sure but what about due process and upholding the dignity of litigants and petitioners? After all, if litigants were to lose faith in our courts and were to take the law into their hands, our courts would lose their raison d’etre.




Readers are invited to visit the webpage ‘Judiciary Watch’ on

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