Two incidents at the Madras High Court earlier this week seem to have upset the lordships a lot and predictably resulted in a huge division between the Bench and the Bar.
In the first incident on 10th September a group of advocates and some law students thronged the First Court of the Chief Justice, holding placards demanding implementation of Tamil as official language of the Madras High Court.
Advocate Bagath Singh who led the agitation had gone on a fast unto death in 2010 with the same demand but was persuaded with great difficulty to give up after eleven days.
His passion for the use of the state’s language in the courts thus became widely known, and there was good coverage in the media, both print and electronic. But then the passion and vehemence didn’t seem to have impressed the judicial higher ups much, and both the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Law & Justice turned a deaf year to the demands, provoking the current agitation.
Some fellow advocates tried to dissuade Bhagat Singh and his associates again, but in vain. As the ruckus continued, the police were called in and the agitators were evicted and then remanded to judicial custody.
The First Bench was furious at what it thought was an assault on their dignity, ticked off the state police for failing in their responsibilities and order CISF cover for the High Court complex.
The Bench was angry over the “gate-crash” and noted that the advocates refused to show their identity cards to the police personnel and carelessly parked their vehicles on the busy thoroughfare on which the High Court is situated, creating a lot of problems for other road-users.
The “unruly behaviour” of those who were supposed to uphold the law was not confined to such isolated incidents, the venerable judges observed in anguish in their lengthy order and referred to the ‘beef eating’ programme organized recently in the court complex. Such was their “brazenness” they could prevent the conduct of yoga classes for the court staff though it was the Chief Justice himself who had recommended such a course in larger interests.
It was also known that some advocate played cricket in the parking lot on holidays, passed lewd remarks against women police personnel, made false complaints against clients and clashed with the police on the slightest provocation.
And then there was this helmet-order related incident. Justice Kirubakaran had ruled that all two-wheeler riders and those seated on the pillion too should wear helmets, he wouldn’t spare even women and kids. The order was actually seen as an encroachment on the powers of the executive, but a “zealous” Tamil Nadu government went a step ahead and announced that the licenses of those who didn’t comply would be seized.
The advocates of Madurai Bar vigorously protested and their agitation went on for a week, and they also took out a two-wheeler procession sans helmet. The protests incensed Justice CT Selvam and Justice Tamilvanan who took up suo motu notice and initiated contempt proceedings against the Madurai Bar Association Secretary A.Dharmaraj and President A.K.Ramasamy.
Fireworks started on 28 July 2015, at the first hearing itself, the honourable judges chided Ramasamy and Dharmaraj and asking them to remove their collar bands as they were appearing before the Bench as contemnors and not as advocates. They felt more humiliated when they were brusquely told to move to a corner of the chamber and stand against the wall.
The next hearing was posted to 16 September 2015, giving the agitated advocates enough time to mobilize in strength and also organize a counter attack.
On 10 September, they took out a procession in Madurai and released a list of corrupt judges, including Justice CT Selvam and Justice Tamilvanan. They alleged Justice Selvam, had initiated contempt proceedings against his own brother, with whom he had some land dispute, in a flagrant misuse of his judicial powers.
While the judges mentioned in the list would not react to the allegations against them, on Sep.16, the Bench headed by Justice Tamilvanan issued directions for an ‘in camera’ hearing at Chennai and also instructed to place CCTV cameras at vantage positions. They also issued directions to ensure heavy police protection – all in an attempt to forestall the advocates from creating further scenes in the court.
But the Madurai advocates were not to be cowed down that easily. A large number of them trooped in to the state capital to shouted slogans in front of the closed gates of the court, denouncing Tamilvanan and Selvam.
One group met Governor Rosaiah and presented a memorandum detailing the charges they were making the judges they had identified. They returned to the High Court and gathered in front of court hall No.4 where the ‘in camera’ proceeding were to be held.
Except for the contemnor and his counsel, no other advocate including the press corps were allowed inside. Senior counsel NGR Prasad, who represented one of the contemnors, refused to enter the court hall, decrying “the undemocratic attitude of the Bench.”
Inside an interesting drama unfolded. The Bench hurled a barrage of questions at the lone contemnor present. Justice Selvam asked whether the contemnor took part in the agitation held by the advocates at Madurai on 10th, whether he distributed pamphlets on the corruption issue, etc.
Justice Selvam, who led the Bench, did not stop there but wanted to know whether contemnor Ramasamy had declared himself insolvent, whether he had any criminal cases against him, whether his name had been struck off from the state electoral roll. Later he adjourned the matter to 30th September for further hearing.
Of course the corruption charges are a salvo aimed at embarrassing the judges who were acting high and mighty. But that does not detract from the seriousness of the allegations being made.
Take the case of Justice Selvam. He indeed has a running civil dispute with his younger brother Martin Selvam over their ancestral lands in Thanjavur district.
As the issue dragged on, the judge Selvam ordered contempt notice to the litigant Martin Selvam and also went on to issue a warrant for the arrest of the latter over some trumped up instance of contempt of court.
Interestingly several representations were made to the Chief Justice himself on the inequities involved, but the case continued under the purview of the learned judge Selvam. Eventually Martin Selvam got relief from a division bench, which stayed the proceedings.
How Justice Selvam conducted himself in the case involving the Savukku website is another eye-opener to the extent he could go in furthering his personal ends. Known for his proximity to DMK chief Karunanidhi, Selvam got wind of reports that some audio tapes bearing on the 2G scam were about to be released by this website.
It was at this juncture that the judge resurrected a one-year old case against this website and issued orders to the police to arrest the person running it. To prevent the tapes from falling into police hands and to release the tapes in public domain, the author of this article had to go underground.
Now an incensed Selvam ordered the website blocked. The cyber police promptly complied, fine. But how to arrest the man involved? They had no clue, and so in sheer desperation the police picked up the designer of the website as also another person who was maintaining the website at backend. They both were duly remanded to judicial custody, and it took a lot of effort to get them out on bail.
Meantime the portfolio of Justice Selvam had been changed, but he chose to retain the savukku case with himself and ordered the shutting down a couple of other domains launched as a reaction against the original blockade.
Not just that. The so-called Justice Selvam ordered a private person to conduct investigation in this regard throwing all norms to wind. Since the state police failed to arrest the author of this article, he transferred the case to CBI and directed the premier investigative agency to investigate the background of an alleged defamatory article. Now the CBI, which is investigating Vyapam scam, Saradha chit fund scam, and the Sheena Bora murder is investigating who wrote a defamatory article in internet. Such is the vengeance of justice Selvam. It is now learnt that Justice Selvam had called the CBI officials connected with this case and issued a threat that if they failed to arrest the author of this article, they would face contempt and he is continuing with his bullying efforts of the CBI.
Contempt is being used as a weapon to stifle dissent and any sort of criticism against the judiciary. The Madras High Court Chief Justice who laments about advocates preventing an Yoga class has conveniently forgotten that three Public Interest Litigations are pending against the Yoga foundation which was supposed to conduct classes inside the High Court campus. Like an agent of the Sangh Parivar, he laments about distribution of cooked beef inside the campus. While the Judges are so concerned about maintaining the sanctity of the High Court, they also refuse to introspect and take corrective action against errant judges. A Judge who conducted several press meets and who openly declares himself as a dalit warrior still continue to hear cases and pass orders. Justice Selvam against whom there are several complaints of favouritism and impropriety, continues to wreak havoc on the entire judicial system by taking on a confrontational attitude with advocates.
While all segments of the society has some sort of checks and balances in one form or other, there is absolutely no check for the erring judges. The cumbersome impeachment process remains as a protective cloak around them and the errant judges simply hoodwink the allegations and use the potent contempt weapon to bully and silence voice of dissent and criticism.
The only victim due to the confrontation between the Bar and the Bench is the public at large. Lakhs of cases are piling up before the judiciary and they spare their valuable time in trying to fix advocates who question them. But the moot question that still is who will judge the Judges ?