A ‘state’ of Constitutional breakdown and lawlessness – II

via B R HARAN published on March 8, 2009


The Chidambaram
case, which was adjourned for 19 February, was numbered 60 in the list
and hence expected to come up for hearing late in the afternoon. But as
the boycott by lawyers continued, it was again adjourned to 25
February. It was not clear if the lawyers who attacked Dr. Swami on 17
Feb. were planning the same on 19 Feb. as well.





Their
sudden decision to file a complaint against him on grounds that he
allegedly called a Dalit advocate by his caste name and to seek
registration of a FIR under provisions of the Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act suggests they had made
some plans against him

. Had Dr. Swami really called a lawyer by his caste name, the concerned lawyer would have lodged a complaint on 17 Feb. itself.



The very fact that it took two days to file the complaint
suggests intention to abuse a legal provision with an ulterior motive.
It may be pertinent to note that the concerned lawyer, Rajnikant, has
an interesting track record and 21 police cases have been filed against
him. Other lawyers involved in the courtroom violence on 17 Feb. also
have cases registered against them, which add up to over 100 cases in
all.  
 

Despite getting the complaint against Dr. Swamy
registered and obtaining the FIR, the lawyers refused to surrender and
indulged in slogan-shouting against Dr. Swami and the police. They
even raised slogans against Mr. Justices P.K. Mishra and K. Chandru,
going so far as to demand the arrest (!) of the Hon’ble judges for
recording the attack on Dr. Swami and issuing an order on it.
All this happened when police attempted to arrest the lawyers for the incident of 17 February.
 

As
the lawyers protested, resorted to stone-pelting and resisted policemen
doing their duty, the police force had no choice but to retaliate, and
very soon a riot-like situation prevailed. A section of lawyers burnt down the police station inside the High Court premises
and police had to resort to lathi-charge. The High Court turned into a
virtual war zone. The conflict lasted almost three hours, in which many
police personnel, lawyers and even civilians were injured. Justice Arumuga Perumal Adityan was also injured in the melee. A number of four-wheelers and two-wheelers, and furniture inside the courtrooms and offices, were smashed. 
 

On 18 February, the First Bench of the Madras High Court comprising Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) Mukhopadhyaya and Justice V Dhanapalan appointed a five-judge bench to decide whether to initiate contempt proceedings against the advocates involved in the assault on Janata Party PresidentSubramanian Swamy on February 17
or not. Besides the ACJ, Justice D Murugesan, Justice Prabha Sridevan,
Justice V Dhanapalan and Justice K Chandru comprised the bench. The
unprecedented constitution of a five-judge bench in the Madras High
Court probably created panic among the accused lawyers; hence the FIR
against Dr. Swami and resort to violence. 
 

The Supreme Court,
which heard a petition from Chennai-based advocate R Muralidharan
through advocate S. Balaji seeking action against the striking lawyers
,
on 20 Feb. issued notices to the Madras High Court Advocates
Association, Registrar General of Madras High Court, Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, Bar Council of India and Madras Bar Association. The petitioner sought a direction to declare the strike by lawyers as illegal
and directions for resumption of work in all Courts in the state. The
petitioner cited the Apex Court’s 2003 judgment which virtually barred
lawyers from going on strike.  
 

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, recuperating in hospital, appealed for calm and made a veiled threat
to go on indefinite fast if the lawyers and police did not patch up.
But the lawyers were in no mood to listen, summarily rejected his
appeal, and demanded severe action against the police. The opposition
parties rallied behind the lawyers and condemned the police action.



Even AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa did not condemn the attack on Dr. Swami,
but used the issue to play political games. The DMK and its main ally
Congress were caught in a dilemma and could not take sides with either
the lawyers or the police. While the lawyers attempted to project an
innocent face, the police insisted that their action was restrained.
Yet political leaders preferred to visit only lawyers in hospital and not police personnel. 






 

The state government formed a four-member committee headed by a retired judge
to assess the damage caused to vehicles and other properties inside the
court premises. Law Minister Duraimurugan invited the lawyers for
talks, but they did not respect his invitation. Instead, on 23 Feb.,
hundreds of lawyers broke open the locked gates of the High Court and
sat on a protest fast inside the premises, without obtaining the
mandatory permission. They resolved to continue boycott of courts till
their demand for suspension of the police top brass and transfer of Director General of Police K.P. Jain were met.   
 

AIADMK
supremo Jayalalithaa questioned the capability of the Chief Minister,
who holds the Home portfolio, in controlling the police force. AIADMK
MLA and former Law Minister D. Jayakumar moved the Supreme Court on 24
Feb., seeking dismissal of the DMK government for
allegedly authorizing the brutal police action against lawyers inside
the High Court. He claimed that as the Chief Justice had not given
permission to police to enter the Court, they would have acted on
government instructions, issued by the Chief Minister (who holds the
Home portfolio).  
 

The Supreme Court on 26 Feb. ordered a judicial enquiry by a single judge commission headed by retired SC judge, Justice B.N. Srikrishna, to probe the incidents and submit an interim report within two weeks. The apex court also ordered transfer of two Joint Commissioners and three Deputy Commissioners of the Chennai city police
and strongly condemned the unruly behaviour of the lawyers and asked
them to call off their strike by 2 March, saying that it would examine
the issue again on 3 March. It dismissed the AIADMK petition. The
Supreme Court further adjourned the cases to 6 March so that it could
take up the interim report of Justice Srikrishna (submitted on March
5). 

 
While the lawyers have been getting fulsome support from the
political fraternity and the Judiciary, the police have been left in
the lurch; even the government was half-hearted in defending them. A
total of 112 police personnel were admitted to hospital (74 in Stanley Medical College Hospital; 38 in Kilpauk Medical College Hospital). Those admitted to SMC were discharged on 22 Feb.; however, 22 police personnel (21 women) are still under treatment in KMC Hospital. 


When we, the affected persons of 17 Feb., visited them in hospital in order to thank them for ensuring our safety that day, the women police constables were literally in tears and had many sad stories to tell. Sadly, not a single newspaper or TV Channel reported the attack on women police officers.
Some of these young women lamented that they are subjected to extremely
poor behaviour by an unruly section of advocates each time they are
posted on duty at the High Court Police Station. No woman lawyer has so
far found the courage to speak up for the female constables. 

 
Till the time of our visit on the afternoon of 22 Feb., not
one person from the government, political fraternity, or judiciary, had
bothered to visit the injured police personnel recuperating in hospital
. We decided to send a letter to the Chief Justice of India
detailing what happened inside the third court on 17 Feb., how an
unruly section of lawyers behaved and how the police ensured our
safety. We sent copies to the media and some reported it.

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