R.VAIGAI & other advocates
22nd February, 2009
The Chief Justice of India,
Supreme Court of India,
There is a total breakdown of the Constitutional machinery in the State of Tamilnadu and the administration of justice has come to a grinding halt.
We submit this memorandum to you with deep anguish, pain and shock at the brutal attack by the State Police on judges, advocates, staff, litigants and the general public within the precincts of the High Court, Madras and the neighbourhood, on 19.02.09. We seek your urgent intervention to restore the majesty and the rule of law and the public confidence in the administration of justice in the State of Tamil Nadu.
The police violence on the afternoon of the 19.02.09 within the precincts of the Chartered High Court of Madras have left the judiciary in Tamilnadu in shambles. The State Government has not come forward to hold itself accountable.
The following sequence of events clearly show that the violence had nothing to do with the lawyer’s boycott, who resumed work on 19.02.09 and that the police carried out a premeditated and well planned attack on the judiciary which lasted unabated for nearly 4 hours from 3.30. p.m.
• 9.30 a.m.- Nearly 200 regular policemen, Swift Action Group, Riot Control Police had been gathered around the High Court premises in Madras.
• Similar deployment was at the Madurai Bench. (The police are on record saying that they were prepared – See the Times of India, Chennai Edition, 21-Feb-09, page 2).
• 2.30 pm – 16 advocates went to the B4 High Court Police Station to surrender in connection with the incident that took place in the High Court when Mr. Subramaniam Swamy’s case was heard. They also wanted a complaint registered against Mr. Swamy for having abused a lawyer by his caste name.
• It appears that though the police were persuaded to register the complaint, they made the surrender of advocates accused by Mr. Swamy of assault a precondition.
• 3.00 pm – About 200 Armed Police suddenly arrived near the Police station in vans.
• 3.15 pm – Though the advocates surrendered voluntarily, the police manhandled them and pushed them into the van.
• Advocates objected to the manhandling.. There were less than a 100 advocates, litigants and others present there.
• 3.30 pm – The police offensive increased . Most of the gates of the High Court were closed by the police, thus trapping the judges, advocates and litigants inside the campus.
• Stones were pelted from all directions. Reports say that the police started to throw first.
• Lathicharge of advocates by the armed riot police started.
• Fresh reinforcements of the Special Action Group (riot police) arrived (nearly 200) and the lathi charge continued with greater instensity and the police chased advocates into court halls and chamber blocks.
• The Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice with some judges like Justice A.C.Arumuga Perumal Adityan, Justice R.Sudhakar, Justice Mohan Ram, Justice Sashidaran, Justice Satyanarayana, and Justice Jyothimani came out of their chambers/court halls hearing the commotion. The police did not spare the judges and the advocates who shielded them suffered grievous injuries and are hospitalized.
• Justice Arumugha Perumal Adityan sustained injuries
• The Acting Chief Justice ran towards the registry office in the high court annexe building. However the offices were bolted from inside by the staff fearing the police. Only when the accompanying advocates and staff banged the door announcing the presence of the Acting Chief Justice were the doors opened. Other Judges ran in different directions.
• 4.00 pm - The judges took refuge in the chambers of the
Acting Chief Justice, who tried in vain to contact the Chennai City Police Commissioner, the DGP and the Chief Secretary telephonically.
• 4.00 to 6.00 pm- The Police entered court halls, advocates chambers, administrative offices and lathi-charged both advocates and others present. The police dragged advocates and any other person found even on floors above the ground level and beat them. Women advocates were also not spared. In addition to the physical assault, they were also subjected to s*xist offensive language.
• The policemen barged into the court buildings and with brute force broke window panes, caused extensive damage to furniture and records of courts including electronic equipment, LCD television sets and computers, the registry, the offices of the personal assistants of the Judges, the Associations inside the campus like the Madras High Court Advocates Association and the Law Association, the libraries and even the offices of the Government Pleaders and Prosecutors, Advocates chambers and vehicles parked in the campus. Close to 200 cars and two wheelers were damaged.
• Advocates, litigants, court staff, judges, children in the day care centre near the Family courts and general public were trapped in various court buildings.
• 5.30 pm – The B4 police out post located at the southern end of the campus after the Family Court building caught fire. At that point of time, the entire campus was under a siege by the police. Judges , advocates, staff and litigants including those injured were trapped inside the court halls and chambers. Many had fled the campus . The police station had already been cordoned off by the armed police. The claim of the police that the advocates set fire is false.
• The riot police reached the door step of the chambers of the Hon’ble Acting Chief Justice, where the full court had taken refuge. The registrar General and other senior court staff and some advocates were present inside the chambers. The riot police lathi charged the advocates who were assembled outside the chamber waiting anxiously for judicial response and protection.
• Justice Sudanthiram rushed out of the chamber of the Acting Chief Justice on hearing the commotion but had to beat a hasty retreat as he too was attacked.
• The riot police started banging the doors of the chambers of the Acting Chief Justice.
• 6.00 pm - Some of the injured persons managed to leave the court premises escorted by advocates through the northern gate facing Thambu Chetty street on NSC Bose Road as it was the only gate open.
• 6.30 pm – The Police chased the advocates leaving the campus into the adjoining streets including Esplanade Road, NSC Bose Road, Armenian Street, Thambu Chetty Street, Linghi Chetty Street, Sunkurama Chetty Street. The Police indiscriminately beat people found on these streets. They also entered shops and law offices and continued the rampage. Many people took refuge in shops and shutters were drawn. They specially targeted the offices of advocates in the said streets.
• 7.30 pm-the DGP ,the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary finally came to the Hon’ble Chief Justice’s chambers.
• 6.30 – 8.00 pm – Police violence continued. Vehicles parked inside the court campus were randomly damaged and any person found was chased and beaten.
• The entire High Court campus was under siege between 3.30 p.m. and 8.00 pm.
• At the end of the day, nearly 150 advocates, staff and litigants were admitted to hospital with serious injuries and significantly the majority had sustained head injuries.
• At about 8 p.m. on the basis of a written complaint given by a lawyer, the High court treating it as a PIL passed an order recording the incidents and directed that the investigation be handed over to the CBI. It also constituted three committees to assess the damage to the high court and other courts.
• 20.02.09- The High Court could not function thereafter as court property was extensively damaged. Furniture, electronic equipment and glass pieces were found strewn everywhere. Advocates who had assembled in the premises for a peaceful demonstration were threatened by the police. Late in the evening, shoot at sight orders for damage to public property was ordered and a handful of protesters were trapped inside the campus.
• At about 11.40 pm, a few advocates had to enter the court with the permission of the Acting Chief Justice to escort these protesters out of the campus.
• 21.02.2009 – The High Court wore a deserted look and all the entrances have been locked. At every entrance, 40 to 50 policemen have been posted. Many shops on the adjoining streets were closed. The same situation continues even today.
• The High Court issued an official statement that it did not authorize police entry on 19.02.09.
• The High Court passed judicial orders calling for a report from the police commissioner to take a decision on initiating criminal contempt proceedings against the state officials. It also held the state accountable for the damage caused.
While this is the state of affairs attempts are being made to project the violence of the police as a clash between them and the advocates. There is extensive video footage of the assault, despite which the state government has not even suspended the police commissioner and the joint commissioner who was in charge of the operation.
We bring to your notice that 35 senior advocates of the Madras High Court have passed a resolution condemning the atrocities committed by the police and the brutal and indiscriminate assault on judges, advocates, staff, general public and the damage caused to property.
Unfortunately the police is generating false rumours by the day as if the advocates pose a threat to the safety of the courts, based on which shoot at sight orders have been issued to be enforced in and around the courts in the state.
Representations by advocates to restore normalcy have gone in vain. It is ironical that while the judiciary was outrageously attacked by the police , it has reposed faith in the same force to guard its property in preference to the advocates who protected the judges and suffered grievous injuries in the process.
The prominence given to the “shoot at sight” orders, simultaneous with the closure of courts with the physical presence of large contingents of armed police around courts all over the state gives the most disturbing appearance as if the state judiciary is under siege by the police and the judges have no control over the administration of justice. This sends a dangerous message to the
general public completely shaking their faith in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Today members of the judiciary, court staff , advocates and litigants feel unsafe to enter courts with police present in such large numbers. It is imperative
to completely remove the police from the courts in Tamil Nadu for the judicial system to start functioning freely without any fear.
The legal community including the judiciary in Tamil Nadu look up to you in this hour of crisis. The Hon’ble Supreme court should suo motu order judicial enquiry by a panel of sitting high court judges since it is the judiciary that has been attacked and made dysfunctional Courts in the high court premises cannot function unless extensive repairs are effected.
We urge you to visit the High Court and make effective interventions to restore people’s faith in the majesty of justice including that of subordinate judicial officers, ministerial staff and that of the legal community.