The Chief Justice of India
‘JALIANWALA BAGH’ IN MADRAS HIGH COURT
The ugly incidents that took place on the afternoon of the 19th day of February, 2009 within the precincts of the Chartered High Court of Madras have left scores bleeding and thousands embittered. There seems to be an attempt to project advocates as the chief cause and perpetrators of the violence that was unleashed inside the premises. In this context, it is felt that a few important issues have been overlooked in the dust and din that has been raised:
1. A large posse of regular policemen, Swift Action Group, Riot Control Police had been gathered around the High Court premises since morning – did the police suspect anything, was anything being planned?
2. The police are on record saying that they were prepared – see News Report by A.Selvaraj in the Times of India, Chennai Edition, 21-Fen-09, at page 2.
3. It is alleged that a group of advocates created a commotion/uproar/disturbance over the police’s laxity in filing an FIR against Shri Subramaniam Swamy and that the police ‘action’ which ensued was the result of trying to control this group of advocates.
4. If the police had such a large force piled up, could not this group of advocates have been contained without much difficulty – or are the police so inefficient that it is incapable of even this clinical operation?
5. Was it necessary to run amok inside the High Court to control a group of advocates, as alleged?
6. How then did the police let themselves inside the High Court premises on the afternoon of February 19th, after the boycott had ended? This action is indeed surprising viewed in the context of the extreme ‘restraint’ the police had shown itself to be capable of, a couple of months ago at the Madras Law College.
7. Worse, the police have charged inside various High Court sections (Registry) – For one, the police have tried force their way into, among others, the High-Court-Judges’-Personal Assistants (P.A) – Section – this Section apparently has had a new door put up at the entrance. Terrified court staff have locked the door from inside and have had their backs to the door trying to resist the police men banging at the door from gaining entry – eye-witnesses recount how the door would open into the section about a feet, and how the staff from inside would push it back in place, only for the door to be banged at again by the police. The door would again have to be pushed back in place – what did the P.A.’s do to merit this?
8. The High Court library was not spared either – library staff was attacked.
9. Why was it that the police though it fit to barge into sections lathi charging and terrorizing the poor court staff? Even assuming the police have a right to charge at all advocates for the commotion created by a few, surely the Court staff are distinguishable from the advocates by their dress?
10. Worried advocates have had to petition the Registrar General to bring the situation into control.
11. Others, distressed advocates, had also gone to the Acting Chief Justice’s chambers requesting that the police be directed to leave the High Court premises – the ACJ had been in conference with a few judges. Top brass of the police were contacted, none could be reached!
12. The Acting Chief Justice and a few other judges had then set out to control the scene and to take stock of the situation so as to ensure no further harm to men and property. The Judges were then taken to one of the sections viz. Current Section to avoid any untoward incident. However this precaution failed as one of the Hon’ble Judges was injured.
13. A charge is made that the B4 Police Station inside the High Court premises was set ablaze by the advocates. Footage shown on T.V. shows the police station, without any damage to it, surrounded by a couple of hundred policemen including the Swift Action Group/Riot Control Police – how then did advocates get access to the police station. Who burned the Police Station down?
14. Police have charged indiscriminately at all advocates – photos abound of police beating up innocent advocates huddled into a corner, of thrashing people who were pleading with hands folded…
15. There is ample footage of advocates’ cars and motor bikes being smashed by the policemen. Why? If there was such an emergent need for the police to charge to contain the ‘attacking advocates’ why was it deemed fit to stop mid way, turn their fury at the vehicles and proceed?
16. And, what of police men throwing stones on people at Court corridors?
17. The police started beating up women advocates and using abusive language without any provocation. This treatment was also meted out to innocent litigants who were unfortunate enough to be in the campus on the ill-fated day. Surely a case of “protectors” turning “aggressors”.
18. If a large group of advocates gathered and retaliated by throwing stones, can they be accused of throwing stones without grave and sudden provocation?
19. If a group of advocates were the first to resort to throwing stones, why were tear gas shells/water cannons not used to contain them? In any case, what was the need to attack, get inside the offices of the Registry and beat up Court staff?
20. The police have also gone inside the chambers of the Acting Chief Justice and terrorized the Acting Chief Justice’s staff.
21. Mr.Justice A.C.Arumuga Perumal Adityan was wounded in the police ‘action’ with a lathi and had to be protected by a group of advocates who got badly injured and had to be rushed to the hospital along with the Hon’ble Judge.
22. At least two exits from the High Court have been locked preventing advocates, court staff and others from going outside – is a reference to Jalianwala Bagh inappropriate?
23. Not satisfied with all the above, the police have chased advocates even outside the High Court premises, in and around NSC Bose Road.
A very sad day for the Indian judiciary; a judiciary required to be independent of executive interference. While there may be two opinions on whether the preceding boycott was justified or not, the brutal attack on the institution had nothing to do with this. It is a fact that the Madras High Court was ransacked and vandalized by the police who could not be controlled by even the Chennai City Police Commissioner.
In the light of all the above, it is submitted that advocates have a genuine cause for anguish over this terror that has been let loose by the police. The extent of damage caused to the person and property of the officers of the Court stand testimony to the fact that the police ‘action’ was much more than disproportionate to the disturbances alleged to have been caused by a group of advocates.
Thirty five senior Advocates, including R.Krishnamurthy, Habibullah Badsha, both former Advocate Generals of the High Court, Madras, Mr.T.R.Rajagopolan, former Additional Advocate General, Mr.N.Natarajan and Mr.R.Gandhi, Senior Advocates met on 20.02.2009 and discussed the serious situation in the High Court and passed the following resolutions:
“ We the senior members of the Madras Bar place on record our strongest disapproval of the atrocities committed by the Police, Swift Action Group and Commandos inside the Madras High Court premises on the 19th February 2009, brutally and indiscriminately attacking innocent lawyers, Court staff and general public and damaging public property as well as vehicles parked inside the campus.
We condemn the atrocious act of the Police in even attacking the constitutional authorities – the Hon’ble Judges of the Madras High Court, as well as the Subordinate Judiciary, this interfering with the administration of judicial system.
We demand the prompt and severe action to be taken against the Police officers, who issued directions to the Police to take aggressive action against the lawyers and the Police who unleashed a reign of terror within the High Court campus.
Be all these as they may, two urgent issues need to be addressed – first, finding out what was the agenda behind this indiscriminate action and secondly, and more importantly, saving the all important institution of the High Court from the clutches of the police.
Sd/- [SRIRAM PANCHU]
Sd/- [ARVIND P.DATAR]
Sd/- [HEMA SAMPATH]
Sd/- [ARL SUNDARESAN]