Monday, April 30, 2012

Remember the High Court Bench in Trivandrum?

Does anyone remember the (still ongoing) struggle to re-establish a Permanent Bench of the High Court in Trivandrum? Yes, Trivandrum is still the only Capital of a major State not to have at least a Bench of its High Court established in the city. Yes, many (not enough, it seems) of us have been clamoring for the establishment of the Bench in the Capital for close to five years now, and that's just the latest edition of demands stretching back many a decade! No, the Bench has not been established since the honorable Justices at the Ernakulam High Court do not seem to be favorably disposed to relocating to the State Capital nor are are the hordes of lawyers and Government officials who mint money from having the Court 200 Kilometers away from the Capital in favor of having some of the moolah taken away for such trifling reasons as the public interest. After all, what does that matter?!

For over 2 years, there was a relay hunger strike in front of the District Court, to which I had the honor of chipping in with 12 hours of zero nutrition time. Twice, the State Legislature has called for the Bench which will save anywhere between Rs 50-100 Crores a year for the State Exchequer by eliminating the cost of conducting Government-related litigation, which accounts for the vast majority of cases in the High Court, in Ernakulam.  

If the suspicion till May 2011 was that the reason behind the lack of any evident interest in Delhi for expediting the process was the political misalignment between the State (Left) and Central (Congress-led) Governments, even that last shred of an excuse was removed with the UDF coming to power almost a year ago. Alas, we were wrong, just as it seems we were wrong in a great many things with respect to the current power equation. Not even a peep has come out on this subject from the Secretariat's North Block.

Well, it seems that at least one person in a position of power has not forgotten or forsaken this issue. Last week, Trivandrum' MP, Dr Shashi Tharoor, introduced a Private Member's Bill 'that proposes the establishment of a Permanent Bench of the High Court of the State in any State Capital that already does not have one. The crucial element in the Bill is that the Bench may be created by the President of India if recommended by the State Legislature. It does not need the consent of the High Court, which has been the only thing holding up the creation of the Bench in Trivandrum for so many years. Since every single political party including the Congress, BJP, CPM and CPI backed the demand for the Bench, it stands to reason that all of them should support the Bill in Parliament (unless some State does not want a Bench in its Capital city!). Now, we will have a real chance to see how truthful all those eloquent promises of support really were. At least, we will know if the 20 MPs from Kerala are all on the same page with respect to that usually forgotten reason for which they were elected in the first place, the Public Interest!

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