Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The tale of a Bench

I remember, way back in class VII or IX, I had read about the Indian Legal System and then again in IIM Cal, where there was a vestigial (and quite boring) course by the same system. In that, High Courts held jurisdiction over cases pertaining to the State Govt. and then to appellate jurisdiction over lower courts.

Now, one would think that since a great many cases before the HC of a State deal with the State Government, the HC itself would be located at the State capital - the seat of the Govt. and its many offices. Well, one would be proven right if almost any state is considered. However, for the past 50 years or so, there has been a curious and inexplicable exception, now at the centre of a swirling storm of debate. Yes, it is Kerala.

Recently, after much prodding by the LDF Govt., the Union Law Ministry and the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court agreed to set up a Bench of the Kerala High Court in the capital city of Kerala - Trivandrum.

The readers who wonder why the HC is not in the State Capital in the first place, may please understand that other considerations do play a role in siting Govt. institutions - whimsical as these considerations may be. Let me leave it at that for now.

Now, why would you want to shift the solidly set HC or even a bench? After all, there is a smart new building on Marine Drive, which reportedly rivals the Legislative Assembly in size, and there are a lot of lawyers and judges settled in Ekm, right? The small matter that hundreds of crores are spent by a cash-strapped Govt. to send lawyers, babus of various levels, documents and faxes to fight out GoK-related cases in Ekm. Or that urgent work gets delayed in Govt. offices just because the officials concerned are off on a legal safari, which inevitably takes at least a day. Not to say that all these officials are on time at the Court, lots of cases are lost by GoK due to the intransigience of lawyers and officials, according to a very unimpressed CM, comrade VS, who has called for closer tabs to be maintained on these gentlemen....uh....persons!

With a HC Bench in the Capital, all this time, expense and inefficiency can be easily avoided. In fact, the expense of setting up a Bench can be recouped in perhaps, just a year's time. So, what's the hue and cry all about, let's do it already? Not exactly, let's just say babudom isn't too impressed by such ideas of efficiency.....less income on the Travel Allowance front and less free time....and ughh, more work? I rest my case!

Recently, it's been heard that the legion of HC lawyers in Ekm have come out against setting up a HC Bench in the capital. I guess they are worried there will be less cases in the HC proper than in the lowly Bench, lol! And without legions of unfortunate litigants, where will all that moolah come from? Poor guys!

Let's just hope that after 50 years of sheer lunacy, that reason does prevail and the Bench is set up in the city, where the Court itself should have been if logic had been the prime criterion in the original decision.

An anecdote. Once, a bunch of people - all activist citizens of the capital city, including yours truely - had gone to meet the previous CM, Mr. Chandy, to press for the HC Bench. Mr. Chandy had an interesting suggestion - the HC Bench can be set up, if and only if the University College can be shifted out and its buildings used for the Court. Well pigs might fly and the Congress Party may dispense with a High! Guess, our ex-CM - who always had the rubber belt and "smart" projects at heart, must have thought he couldn't lose either way. Either the College would stay put and he would say "now I can't get the Bench", or he would be rid of the pesky SFI activists in the campus who have no love lost for the collective backsides of him and his Cabinet! Anyways, good thing that creative idea was not put into practice or else, there would have been one heck of a whirlwind to reap.

~ The author freely admits his Left leaning! ;-)

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Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.