The Law of Lawlessness
by P M Ravindran on 20 Nov 2020 4 Comments

On Vijayadasami Day, October 26, this writer went to a temple dedicated to Lord Siva and managed by the Malabar Devaswom Board. Though temples under the Board open quite early for regular rituals, darshan is allowed only after 7 a.m. and devotees have to register their name and mobile number at the entrance, a process that began on the dot of time. Normally one does not visit any government offices before 10.30 a.m. or after 4 p.m., though the working hours begin at 10 a.m. and end only at 5 p.m., because most employees start trickling in only after 10 and many trickle out after 4.


Once I was at the Treasury to encash a cheque, at 10.45 a.m., but the cashier was not available. Around 11, I walked into the cabin of the Assistant Treasury Officer and enquired about the cashier’s counter which was still not open. He responded nonchalantly that the cashier had gone to the bank next door, to collect cash. Another 15 minutes passed and the crowd waiting for the cashier began to get restive. I suggested we meet the District Collector as a group and bring the matter to his notice. No one was willing to do that. So I went back to the ATO and asked him why the cashier was not at his counter even after one and half hours of the scheduled time.


Suddenly another employee came from behind and blocked the exit, simultaneously shouting ‘call the police, this guy has manhandled our officer’. I brushed past him and made my way out. Commotion followed, and police came. Fortunately, the crowd was with me and the police left after taking down my personal details. By then the cashier had come and opened the counter. My formal complaints did not elicit any positive response from the concerned authorities.


A Personal Assistant to the secretary of the Municipality would go early on Fridays (practically after noon break) and come late on Mondays (around 11.30), as her home was in a different district and she could not commute daily. So long weekends were enjoyed almost as a right with the tacit approval of her boss. She was surely not the only such case.


Once, there was a siege of the Collectorate that started well before working hours so that no employee could enter the complex. It lasted till around 3 pm. An application under the RTI Act for inspecting the attendance registers revealed that all employees had been marked present, both in the forenoon and afternoon. On further query, I was informed that all employees had waited patiently outside in the scorching sun and entered their offices when the siege was called off. They marked their attendance with the permission of the Collector. On seeking a copy of the permission and the authority of the Collector to give such permission, there was no response.


The same day, the District Consumer ‘Court’ working in the same premises had also marked all employees present. But in the dockets of cases posted for that day, it was recorded that the cases were being adjourned due to non-availability of staff. Complaints to the then Chief Minister elicited no action.


Kerala is known as a consumer state. Right from the milk and vegetables we consume, everything comes from neighboring states. Kerala is also one of the best markets for luxury cars. However, as far as the government is concerned, all tax collected by it isn’t enough to even pay its employees. Whatever little is done towards constructing and maintaining roads or paying social security pensions, the money must come from sale of liquor and lottery tickets. But with Covid, even commerce has taken a beating. So now, the Motor Vehicle Act is being extensively used to collect fines.


A report on social media states that for everything and anything - using alloy wheels to names written on glasses - the motor vehicles department is levying fines. The reporter had only two requests, one, the rules be enforced without fear or favor and, two, those who are required to maintain the roads should also be penalized for their failures.

(, Malayalam)


That brings me to the issue of members of the IAS using flags with the emblem of their alma mater, the Lal Bahadur Sastri National Institute of Administration, on their cars. A member of the IPS, when appointed as Transport Commissioner, ordered these to be removed as they were held illegal. The IAS lobby prevailed on the political leadership to make it legal.


Between enforcing road rules and enforcing cleanliness of public spaces, which should get priority? I believe it should be the latter because unhygienic surroundings affect the whole community adversely, health wise. But that is not the case.


The floods of 2018 had cleaned the river Bharathapuzha as never before. But soon one could see people defecating on the rocks in the river bed. A complaint to the municipality followed by an application under the RTI Act revealed that a Health Inspector had visited the place and a board had been put up warning people of penalties for defiling the river!


On October 31, 2020, The Statesman reported a ruling of the Allahabad High Court in a case where a Muslim girl had converted to Hinduism on June 29, 2020, and married a Hindu boy on July 31, 2020. The couple had sought direction of the court to their relatives not to interfere with their married life coercively. The judge dismissed the petition on September 23, 2020, observing that the said conversion has taken place only for the purpose of marriage.



Since the question in this case was not of the validity of marriage per se and only of being left in peace, I studied the order (Writ-C No. 14288 of 2020). The learned judge had quoted a case law (Writ-C No.57068 of 2014) that decided the case of a Hindu girl who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim youth and similar cases. The girls did not know anything about Islamic faith, and this was cited as the reason to hold the marriages void. 


There is a report in the Deccan Chronicle (January 23, 2019) where a Hindu girl (Valliamma) married a Muslim man (Mohammed Illias) without converting. A division bench of the apex court held that marriage irregular and the effect of such marriage is that the wife is entitled to get dower but cannot inherit the husband’s property. However, the son born of that marriage was entitled to inherit the property of the father.


In a peculiar case, ‘SBI says husband can’t use wife’s debit card, court agrees’, a pregnant lady gave her ATM Card to her husband to draw money from an SBI ATM. The machine delivered a slip showing the money was debited, but the amount was never released. He reported the matter to the bank and was told the amount would be credited into the account within 24 hours. When it did not happen, the bank denied responsibility stating that the transaction had been completed correctly. The couple obtained CCTV footage confirming that the cash was not dispensed. They also obtained a cash verification report of the ATM for that day, which showed excess cash of Rs 25,000 in the machine. The Banking Ombudsman closed their case by observing that the ATM PIN had been shared. The Bangalore IVth Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum upheld the Ombudsman’s decision, after almost four years, on May 29, 2018.



The case of a young widow trying to get her late husband’s medical insurance claim exemplifies this law of lawlessness. The husband had died of brain cancer. While under treatment, he underwent oral chemotherapy and did not need hospitalization due to advancement in medical science. But every course of oral tablets needed prescription from the oncologist, before which certain procedures like MRI Scan were necessary. Each course cost Rs 25,000/- and there were 6 courses for one cycle of treatment, lasting 6 months. The terms and conditions of the policy also explicitly stated:

Hospitalisation shall mean admission in any hospital/ nursing home in India upon the written advice of a Medical Practitioner for a minimum period of 24 consecutive hours. The time limit of 24 hours will not be applicable for the following surgeries/procedures.


Or, any other surgeries/procedures agreed by TPA/Company which require less than 24 hours hospitalization due to advancement in Medical Technology.


Hence, the only question involved before the Insurance Ombudsman and later the High Court was: what conditions needed to be fulfilled for the TPA/ Company to agree for procedures that needed less than 24 hours hospitalization? Both the Ombudsman and the Court did not give her the required relief, or more precisely, justice.


Recently, I posted a query at Quora: When judges are required to know the law and the parties to any case are expected to know the facts, why should we have advocates representing parties before judges? I tagged a few lawyers and activists suggested by the site. There were six responses, and all harped on the same old points of knowing the laws, procedure, format et al. I quoted from ‘India’s Legal system: Can it be saved?’ by Fali S Nariman. He stated unambiguously that ‘For more years than I can imagine we lawyers have been using our lawyering skills not in a profession but in a game, in which the more skillful (which tends to become also the more costly), will invariably win.’ In other words, the richer contenders will (invariably) win in our courts.


Long ago, I came across two judgments of the apex court, quoted by the respondent to an appeal being pursued in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission:

-        In Ittavira Vs Varkey (A 1964 SC 907) the court ruled that ‘courts have jurisdiction to decide right or to decide wrong and even though they decide wrong, the decrees rendered by them cannot be treated as nullities’.

-        In Misrilal Vs Sadasiviah (A 1965 SC 553) the apex court ruled that ‘there can be no interference in revision merely because the decision is erroneous in law or in fact where there is no error pertaining to jurisdiction’.

And we saw how many times P. Chidambaram approached the apex court for bail.


Even the simplest of laws, the Right to Information Act, has been subverted by the very people tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce it. The question needs to be asked: who deserves to be punished more severely: ordinary folk who are not conversant with our complicated laws or those who are tasked, empowered, equipped and paid to enforce them?


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