It is really heart wrenching to see the pathetic infrastructure of the lower courts, which invited the wrath of the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court on Friday. A three member Bench of the Madras High Court comprising the Chief Justice M.Y.Eqbal, Justices T.S.Sivagnanam and P.Jyothimani suo motu took up the matter of the appalling condition of the infrastructure in lower courts.
Lordships, the state of the George Town court is only a sample. You are not aware of the situation in the other lower courts. It is highly appalling. Litigants and public are stranded in verandahs of the courts and they sweat it out during summer. The plight of the under trial prisoners is more pathetic. Till their cases are called, they sit on the floor in the corridor, which is worse than a garbage dump.
The present situation is a culmination of the scant regard shown for the judiciary for quite a long time. The reason, the judiciary had failed to be assertive and has become too soft for the government to take it for a ride.
Umpteen litigations stand out as a glaring example for the sheer negligence and carelessness shown towards the judiciary. The reason, many of the judges are ‘hand-picked’ by the ruling party and are more loyal to the party than to the people. Though all appears well on paper, that the judges are selected by the collegium and only the judiciary which has a final say in the selection of judges, the reality is the contrary. It is the ruling party, whichever is the party, that plays a huge role in the selection of judges barring a few exceptions.
Naturally the judges thus selected, are loyal to their political masters than to the people. These kind of role played by the political parties in the selection of judges paves way for the sheer disregard shown towards the judiciary. A classic example is the ‘courtesy call’ paid by Justices C.T.Selvam and Raja Elango to Karunanidhi, after being selected as High Court Judges.
The state government boasted the courtesy call paid by the Judges through a government press release. Naturally when Justice C.T.Selvam dismissed a petition praying for a corruption probe against Karunanidhi’s security officers, who were allotted prime property worth 2 crores, it set tongues wagging. Three security officers of Chief Minister Karunanidhi who are receiving salaries of 12,000 a month paid 1.25 crores in a single instalment.
The ‘soon-to-be’ High Court judge, and present Additional Advocate General Wilson’s reply during the sumotu proceedings drew a sharp reaction from the Chief Justice when Wilson stated that government had allocated 300 crores for judiciary’s infrastructure. The CJ remarked ‘you are not doing charity’. It is natural for the government to act with such temerity and in sheer contempt, when the judiciary has become so weak.
On an average around 1800 to 2000 contempt applications are filed in the Madras High Court, Principal Bench alone. All these contempt applications are a result of the state government’s authorities showing scant respect towards the court. Many instances can be cited for the lethargic attitude of the government towards court and its orders. The judges who chide the advocates and litigants for wasting the court’s precious time, turn a Nelson’s eye when authorities slight their orders and contempt proceedings are initiated and more of court’s time is wasted.
In a case where a Division Bench of the Madras High Court, ordered grant of Pension to an employee of All India Radio, the order was not implemented even after a lapse of 3 years. Even after 3 months of filing a contempt application, still the department has not moved an inch.
The Supreme Court of India in the landmark D.K.Basu’s judgment had issued 12 commandments listing out the guidelines to be followed by the police throughout the country. The commandments command the police to wear visible name badge, inform a friend or relative about the arrest, provide medical treatment, etc. The Supreme Court had also ordered that these commandments should be invariably displayed in all the police stations or police wings where arrest is permitted ‘prominently’. It had also held that any failure in this regard would invite contempt proceedings and the contempt proceedings need not be initiated in the Supreme Court but in the concerned High Courts.
In the Apex Court’s words:
“37. Failure to comply with the requirements herein above mentioned shall apart form rendering the concerned official liable for departmental action also render him liable to be punished for contempt of court and the proceedings for contempt of court may be instituted in any High Court of the Country, having territorial jurisdiction over the matter.
38. The requirements, referred to above flow from Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and need to be strictly followed. These would apply with equal force to the other governmental agencies also to Which a reference has been made earlier,
39. These requirements are in addition 1, the constitutional and statutory safeguards and do not detract from various other directions given by the courts from time to time in connection with the safeguarding the rights and dignity of arrestee.
40. The requirements mentioned above shall be forwarded to the Director General of Police and the Home Secretary of very State Union Territory and it shall be their obligation to circulate the same to every police station, under their charge and get the same notified at ever police station at a conspicuous place. It would also be useful and serve large interest to broadcast the requirements on the All India Radio besides being shown on the National network of Doordarshan and publishing and distributing pamphlets in the local language containing these requirements for information of the general public. Creating awareness about tile rights of the arrestee would in our opinion be a step in the right direction to combat the evil of custodial crime and bring in transparency and accountability. It is hoped that these requirements would been to curb, if not totally eliminate the use of questionable methods during interrogation and investigation leading to custodial commission of crimes.”
This judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court in December 1996. Fifteen long years have passed and the instructions of the Apex Court has been given a ceremonious burial by the Tamil Nadu government.
A petitioner approached the Madras High Court to wake up the government from its Rip Wan Winkle sleep through a writ petition in the High Court. The only relief sought in the writ petition is for a direction to the State government to comply with the Supreme Court’s directions in D.K.Basu’s case and install the display boards in all police stations. An assertive court should have pulled up the state government for throwing the Supreme Court’s orders to wind. But a tame High Court ordered that ‘the Home Secretary is directed to comply with the Supreme Court’s directions.’ This order was passed in November 2009. It need not be said that this order too met the same fate as that of Supreme Court.
When a High Court, subordinate to the Supreme Court is approached that the Apex’ court’s orders have been violated is this the sought of reaction you expect from a High Court ?
Why do litigants approach the courts ? Only when all other remedies fail. It is not easy for an average lower middle class or a poor man to knock the courts and get justice. The legal aid system in the state has become too brittle to handle the litigants. The citizen approaches the court in a fervent hope that justice would be delivered and the authorities are directed to do justice. A continuous litigation would not only exhaust the litigant, but also empty his purse.
Is this the justice a High Court gives to a litigant for praying to implement Supreme Court’s order ?
In another instance an activist approached the High Court through a public interest litigation in March last year to postpone the multi-billion Indian Premier League cricket matches. The petitioner cited examination of school children as the main reason for postponing the matches. A Division Bench of the Madras High Court, said that before seeking a direction, the petitioner should have approached the authorities through a representation and dismissed the petition. A persistent petitioner made a representation to the authorities, waited for 10 days and again approached the Court for relief. The second time too, the Court disposed of the petition directing the authorities to ‘dispose of’ the representation of the petitioner. The petitioner’s plea to direct the authorities to dispose of his representation within two weeks was also not headed by the Bench. So what is the purpose of filing petitions. P.S.Raman, the LEARNED counsel who appeared for Lottery Baron, Ilaignan producer and blue eyed boy of Karunanidhi, appeared on behalf of the BCCI. The IPL team owners never even bothered to represent their case probably knowing what would be the result.
A classic case of ‘arrogant government’ and a ‘timid judiciary’ is the Chennai Sangamam case.
Jegath Gasper addressing mediapersons after CBI raids
Father Jegath Gaspar Raj. This is the name of a ‘so called’ father whose primary profession is money laundering. Information about him reveals that he was working initially in Veritas radio and during his stint in the radio, he used to be not only an agent of the US intelligence agency CIA but also a fund raiser for LTTE. After his return to India, Jegath Gaspar became close to Karunanidhi’s family and ultimately entrusted with the task of laundering the money of the first family of Tamil Nadu in off-shore tax havens.
After the Supreme Court took cognizance of the slow pace of the probe in 2G scam and started monitoring investigations the CBI woke up from its slumber and conducted simultaneous raids across the country. Jegath Gasper’s public trust ‘Tamil Maiyam’ was one such places to be raided by the CBI. Gasper was put into 9 hour interrogation by the CBI during its search for which the author of the article was an eye-witness. A desperate Gasper hid himself for one hour to avoid the press after the CBI left his premises. According to sources, CBI had seized several incriminating documents from the premises of Tamil Maiyam which showed that his Trust had received several lakhs of rupees as donation from telecom companies deeply involved in the 2G scam. Why scam tainted telecom companies chose Tamil Maiyam to donate several lakhs is anybody’s guess.
Jegath Gaspar on 2nd January 2011, made an announcement along with Karunanidhi’s princess Kanimozhi that their ‘loot mela’ Chennai Sangamam would continue as usual this year too, in spite of the CBI raids. The 2011 edition of Chennai Sangamam assumes significance as it is being conducted closely after the CBI raids. The fact that Tamil Nadu government is allocating funds for the cultural festival and tax payers’ money is given to a scamster raised many eyebrows.
One P.Pugalenthi, a socially conscious advocate, filed a public interest litigation before the Madras High Court in which his prayer was simple. Prohibit Tamil Maiyam from associating with the public festival Chennai Sangamam, since he appears to be involved in the 2G scam. The government of Tamil Nadu filed a counter affidavit in which the
“10. I submit that the third respondent, Tamil Maiyam is a private Trust, constituted for the welfare of the artists, who are engaged in folk arts and other traditional cultural events. They identify and deploy recognized groups who perform in the events organized by Chennai Sangamam. There is no financial transaction between the Government of Tamil Nadu and the third respondent. The remuneration for the artists is paid directly by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation based on the Government sanction and vouchers are obtained from the artists. The third respondent has no say in organizing the events except identifying and deploying artists. Similarly the advertisements are released in the media directly by the department of Tourism and payment is made to these media by the department of Tourism.”
In paragraph 12 of his counter affidavit in the Writ Petition it has been stated:
“… …. … The Chennai Sangamam is a mega event conducted for the development of tourism. The allegation that the events are being given to a private organization is totally misconceived. The third respondent Trust only identifies and deploys the artists and remuneration to the artists is paid directly by the Government as stated here above.”
Seeing the clear stand of the government that the scam tainted Tamil Maiyam is in no way connected with the festival, except supplying artists, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court comprising the present Chief Justice M.Y.Eqbal and T.S.Sivagnam passed an order totally relying on the government’s stand.
“The statement made in the counter affidavit filed by the second respondent stating that there is no financial transaction between the Government of Tamil Nadu and the third respondent as contained in paragraphs 10 to 13 is placed on record.
The third respondent shall continue to be associated for the effective conduct of “Chennai Sangamam” festival scheduled to be held between 12.01.2011 and 17.01.2011.”
The festival began with much fanfare and Karunanidhi shared the dais with the scamster Jegath Gasper, sending out a clear message to the entire country and the judiciary. Advertisements made by Tamil Maiyam for the festival carried the logo of Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation and also its project “Enchanting Tamil Nadu”.
The entire state was shocked to see audacity of Gasper to ignore the court orders. Tamil Maiyam’s name not only appeared in the hoardings, but also in all the stages erected for the festival and the anchors who compered the festival in all venues announced the programmes as “Tamil Maiyam’s Chennai Sangamam”.
At the time when the festival was on, a legal notice was sent to the government and Tamil Maiyam calling upon them to refrain from using Tamil Maiyam’s name in any of the advertisements. A second notice was also sent calling them to return the funds if any collected by Tamil Maiyam from 2000 firms / public in the name of Chennai Sangamam.
Jegath Gaspar sent a reply notice. It was the height of arrogance. He had replied that since the funds provided by the government are not enough, he is collecting funds from firms / public and he would not return the money, so far collected.
The petitioner in the writ petition again moved the High Court with a contempt petition and sought to punish Tourism Secretary for filing a false affidavit that Tamil Maiyam is not connected with the festival except supplying artists. The petition also sought initiation of criminal action against Jegath Gasper for collecting funds in violation of Court orders.
After ordering notice to Tourism Secretary the Court adjourned the matter to 8th February. When the matter came up for hearing, surprisingly Additional Advocate General P.Wilson appeared for the government, instead of Government Pleader Kalifullah. The curious thing about Wilson is that he called on Karunanidhi and sought his blessings on Christmas. The reason Wilson met when Karunanidhi neither being Jesus Christ nor a priest became clear when Wilson’s name was included in the ‘to-be judges’.
Without bothering much, Wilson just submitted that no orders have been violated and in the advertisements issued by the government, Tamil Maiyam’s name is not found. Wilson conveniently chose to ignore that Tamil Maiyam’s advertisements carried government logo.
The petitioner’s counsel Radhakrishnan’s impressive and eloquent arguments about how the government cares two hoots about the court’s orders and how the government treats the court, failed to impress the court. The Chief Justice remarked ‘It is for us to decide whether the majesty of the court is lowered or not. You argue your case’, for which Radhakrishnan shot back, ‘It is not only the duty of the court to uphold the majesty of the court, as a public it is also my duty to uphold the majesty of the Court’.
After reserving orders, the Court closed the contempt application without much ado.
Would not Jegath Gasper be rejoicing with joy and have a couple of drinks more enjoying his prowess and the ‘week kneed’ attitude of the court ?
It was very difficult to dismiss the theory that the meek closing of the contempt proceedings against Tamil Maiyam has something to do with the fact that Karunanidhi’s princess daughter Kanimozhi is behind Chennai Sangamam ?
If the courts treat the arrogant State of Tamil Nadu and power brokers like Jegath Gaspar who have scant regard for the judiciary with ‘kid gloves’ is it a surprise that in return the State don’t give a damn for the judiciary ?
Lorships, no one would forget the incident when in the full glare of the Chief Justice of India, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court and the entire Judges of the Madras High Court, 5 advocates and journalists were beaten up mercilessly by rowdies of Karunanidhi for showing black flag democratically on the eve of unveiling of ambedkar statue inside the High Court premises.
Did any of your LORDSHIPS had the spine to take up suo motu cognizance of the incident which happened in the presence of the entire top brass of Tamil Nadu Police INSIDE THE HIGH COURT PREMISES and bring the police to task ? Your lordships failed because, the ‘all powerful’ Karunanidhi was present. When Karunanidhi ignores it, so does the judiciary.
Lordships, the biblical verse from Galatians IV clearly describes your predicament ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’.