As the Madras High Court hits one crisis after another, be it over caste or language issues, in an unprecedented move, central security forces will be deployed there.
By R Ramasubramanian in Chennai
In an unprecedented ruling, the first Be-nch of the Madras High Court (MHC) headed by Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had ordered the deployment of central security forces for the court campus in Chennai. Formal orders for it came on October 30 after hearing arguments from the central and state governments and from the Madras High Court Advocates’ Association (MHAA). As the center expressed its inability to deploy either the CRPF or the BSF due to shortage of manpower, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) will be deployed from November 16. With this, MHC becomes the first high court in the country, apart from the Delhi High Court and the J&K High Court, to be guarded by a central force.
This crisis has been brewing for some time. Tho-ugh there was bad blood between the state police and lawyers for several years, the immediate provocation for deploying the CISF was the growing tiff between the judges, especially the Chief Justice (CJ), and a group of lawyers.
On September 14, some dozen law-yers squatted in the court hall of the CJ demanding that Tamil be made the language of the High Court. The dharna went on for a whole day, resulting in their eviction and arrest. Just two days after this incident, when another division Bench was hearing a contempt plea against a couple of lawyers from the Madurai Bench in the MHC campus, over 300 advocates tried to barge into the court hall. The ruckus went on for over two hours. With these two incidents as the immediate provocation, the CJ told the state and central governments that the Bench wanted central security cover as the state police couldn’t be trusted any more.
The Jayalalithaa government vociferously opposed the move and said that it was competent enough to safeguard the MHC campus. Initially, the central government expressed its inability stating that deploying central forces without the concurrence or willingness of the state would have a bearing on the federal structure. But, it gave in later.
Although Tamil Nadu went to the Supreme Court to get the High Court order revoked, it didn’t help. On November 4, the Supreme Court dismissed Tamil Nadu’s appeal challenging the handing over of security of the Madras High Court premises to the CISF. An apex court Bench headed by Justice TS Thakur and PC Panth dismissed a petition filed in this regard. The court even observed that if the situation warranted, it would not dither to call the Army to restore the dignity of the institution.
Interestingly, the MHAA, which had a running battle with the state police, closed its ranks with the police and strongly opposed the central forces. However, the first Bench overruled all objections and ordered deployment of the CISF. The Bench also directed the state government to deposit `16.32 crore to the center for security expenses for the next six months wherein the CISF would guard the premises. If the situation improved, the state police could take over the security once again, the Bench said.
There were mixed responses to this development. The ruling AIADMK fears that this may be used by the opposition, especially in the run-up to the assembly elections due between April and May 2016, to say that law and order was collapsing in the state. “The CJ ordering CISF cover will surely be viewed and interpreted by the opposition as nothing but strictures on the state police and it will be used by the opposition as a whipping tool in the elections,” said a senior IAS officer on condition of anonymity.
But there are some genuine concerns too about the deployment of the CISF. “This will create a lot of practical problems. Language is a major problem. CISF personnel know only Hindi and not English or Tamil. By demanding ID cards from even senior lawyers when the latter rushes to the court halls at the 11th hour, things could get complicated and worsen,” said RC Paul Kangaraj, the president of MHAA.
Apart from this, jurisdictional issues could be another problem. “Unlike other high court complexes where only the high court is functioning, here in the MHC complex, sessions courts, family courts, CBI courts, motor vehicle cases courts, banks and MHAA buildings are situated. The number of litigants entering these premises is huge and this could further complicate the issue,” says A Jaison, a lawyer in the High Court.
However, the Tamil Nadu Advocates’ Association (TNAA) president, S Praba-karan welcomed the move and said language would not be a problem.
This development could not have occurred at a worse time for the MHC as it is already fighting a crisis brewing within its own Bench. In April-May this year, Justice CS Karnan of the MHC stayed the selection process for the appointment of lower judicial officers in the state judicial service commission on the grounds that one of the selection panel members, a sitting judge of the MHC, was corrupt. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul referred this matter to a division Bench. The Bench stayed Justice Karnan’s order and gave the go-ahead to the selection process. Angered by this, Justice Karnan, initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Chief Justice Kaul. In addition, he wrote to the National Commission for SC\ST complaining that he was ill-treated and sidelined by the CJ be-cause he was a Dalit.
The MHC then rushed to the Supreme Court through its Registrar-General. The SC stayed the suo motu proceedings initiated against Justice Kaul by Justice Karnan. It also warned that no institution or judge should interfere in the selection process of judicial officers of the state. But Justice Karnan continued his tirade and in August, he wrote letters to the president, prime minister, Chairman SC/ST Commission, former UP CM Mayawati and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan that he was sidelined by the CJ for being a Dalit. Justice Karnan also wrote letters to the Registrar-General of MHC to give him `5 lakh to fight the case related to him in the apex court.
Against this background, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Justice HL Dattu made this re-mark on September 21: “The agitating lawyers have instilled a fear psychosis in the minds of judges with their threats…How can we function when we sit under fear psychosis that a mob may come in any time? What was the Bar Council of India doing?”
A section of senior lawyers strongly believes that caste feelings are predominant in this campus and blames the judiciary and the appointment process for not giving adequate representation to some communities. “Yes, caste feelings are running amok and it’s nauseating. But we have to understand that there are vulnerable sections that are not represented and there are communities which are over-represented. We should have social justice in the appointments of judges, but at the same time, we cannot allow caste to be predominant,” said a senior lawyer.
The MHC has been roiled in all kinds of rows and controversies recently. While it has petitioned the SC to rescue it from the gimmicks of one of its judges, lawyers are holding court proceedings to ransom and releasing the names of “corrupt judges”. One lawyer even approached the apex court to initiate contempt proceedings against a sitting High Court judge. A set of lawyers also protested in the MHC asking Tamil to be made the court language. All this is happening when over one-third of judges’ seats are lying vacant, resulting in cases piling up.
CJI Dattu was right when he said: “As a law student I was told by my senior to go to this High Court and learn advocacy. All is lost.”