Edifice of Justice

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The Bombay High Court building is a Grade-1 heritage structure.

It still looks somewhat majestic.

But anything under the care of the ‘Public Works Department’ cannot retain its majestic appearance for long.Constructed in 1878, this edifice of justice was meant to cater to the needs of about a dozen judges, their staff members, and at most a few hundred litigants.

With the efflux of time and exponential rise in population and litigation, there have been numerous additional rooms carved out, passages enclosed, corridors utilised, doors walled up and air-conditioners fixed.

And all this was purely need-based.
Executed on an ad-hoc, unplanned basis with utility rather than aesthetics in mind.Cables, like serpents make their way through ugly holes made in walls, arches and columns everywhere.
Wooden partitions divide chambers and ante-chambers blocking natural air-flow.
Water Closets have been constructed inside every chamber.
All these “amenities” were added primarily to make the life of milords as comfortable as possible.This story is about a milord who was very strict and no-nonsense.
Sparing none, he used to run through his board at great speed, as he used to come to court, having read every pleading,  and was also very quick on the uptake during oral arguments, which he hardly permitted beyond five to ten minutes.

Then he peered through the thick lenses of his glasses at both sides in turn.
That was the crucial moment.
Everyone watched the judge’s face for the hint of a smile.
Because the side which got his smile was the side which lost its case. On that particular day, this judge was being especially severe on the Municipal Corporation and its errant officials.
The law officers of the Corporation and their instructing officials were at the receiving end of his tirades.
The judge was asking for top officials including the Municipal Commissioner, to be kept present in court for tongue-lashing in the post-lunch session.As soon as the court rose for the lunch break, the hapless law officers ran to the Original Side Library where their tried-and-tested Senior Advocate (of first choice and last resort) was relaxing.
They implored him to please come and appear before the fuming judge after the lunch recess as all the Municipal Corporation matters had been kept back.

This was nothing new for the Senior.
In fact, he had already been telephonically requested by the Municipal Commissioner to appear in these matters.
He told the juniors not to worry.
“Jo bhi hoga dekha jaayega” he said with a smile and a wink.

Scene in the Court post-lunch:

Judge:Are the guilty officers kept present?

Counsel: I am appearing for them.
Why should they be here?
They have other important work to do.

Judge:They must be made accountable.
They are responsible for unauthorised constructions everywhere.

Counsel: How, my lord?
They did not construct them.

Judge:Of course not..but they didn’t demolish them either.

Counsel: Whenever there is any complaint, they take action.

Judge:That is the problem.
Why should they wait for complaints?
Why can they not take suo motu cognisance and action?

Counsel:Is your lordship suggesting that we just go and demolish anything we feel is unauthorised?
No notice?

Judge: You must follow the procedure but don’t wait for complaints.
The moment you see something unauthorised, you must take action.

Counsel: It is not that simple or easy; the culprits often occupy high positions.

Judge: High or low doesn’t matter, you must not spare them.
We shall empower you with our mandamus.

Counsel: If your lordship directs, we will have to comply.
But where do we start?

Judge:Start from the top!
Spare no one.

Counsel: I am so glad to hear this.
But i just want milord to verify and clarify just one small thing tomorrow..if milord doesn’t mind.

Judge: What do you want to know?

Counsel:I just want to know whether all the additions and alterations in all their lordships’  chambers in the High Court have been done by submitting plans, getting the required approvals, and with sanction of the heritage committee?

Judge: Of course, all these things must have been done.

Counsel:I am sure, milord, but still i shall get the copies collected from milord’s Chamber tomorrow.
I shall also instruct the Corporation to undertake a similar exercise in Mantralaya, Sachivalaya and all other Government buildings in Bombay.
As milord has said, we will start at the top..and from South Bombay.

Thus the matter was adjourned to the next day.

When the next day dawned, it was clear that the additions and alterations in the High Court building were done as the need arose according to diktats of judges rather than requirements of law.
No plans or permissions could be located anywhere.

When the adjourned cases of the Municipal Corporation were called out, the judge’s tone and demeanour had undergone a total transformation.
They were conciliatory rather than confrontational.

Judge: I have asked the Court Keeper and the Registrar to get hold of the sanctioned plans.
But that will take some time.

Counsel: Yes, my lord.
You may rest assured that anything beyond the sanctioned plan will be demolished as per the order you are going to pass.

Judge: Ah, well..there is no urgency.
We shall see.
Let us keep all these matters after eight weeks.

Counsel: I understand milord.
Do you need me to keep the Municipal Commissioner or any other officer personally present after eight weeks?

Judge: No,Mr.Counsel.
That will not be necessary.

After this nothing happened.
Just as super seniors have a habit of disappearing when they are wanted most, all these cases have disappeared from the board.

And as we had heard in fairy tales..
They all lived happily ever after.