Red light

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To reduce the burden on the High Courts, many tribunals gradually came into existence.
Whether they have helped reduce arrears or added to them is a moot question. But they did offer more avenues to the Government to reward retired HC judges for meritorious services rendered from HC benches.

In metros like amchi Mumbai, finding a place to locate any tribunal is a huge problem.
As a result, most tribunals function in accommodations rented either from other government departments, corporations or even from private landlords.

How exactly these locations get chosen is not quite clear but expediency and budgetary constraints obviously trump suitability and convenience.

This story pertains to a period when someone, perhaps with an impish sense of humour chose Falkland Road (notorious as a red-light area frequented by mill-workers, sailors, and daily wage labourers) to house the ‘Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal’ (DRAT).

Evidently, the decision-makers had not visited the place before selecting and renting it.

The very name “Falkland Road”(often mispronounced by cab drivers and commoners as a phonetically similar sounding unparliamentary word) should have rung a bell.

But all correspondence happened and approvals were obtained by citing its new name, viz. ‘Patthe Bapurao Marg’.
Apparently, this gentleman was a poet who penned “lavanis” for “tamasha” artistes to sing.
No doubt it was an apt name for this road.

The problems started after the DRAT became functional on Falkland Road.

No one knew where it was and if one missed the location even by a single building on either side, one landed at a commercial sex worker’s doorstep.

Black coats are not unwelcome per se.
But when droves of them start descending at ten in the morning when 90% of the residents have just dozed off, abuses were not surprising if one pushed a wrong entrance door.

As if this location was not bad enough, the Government soon notified the appointment of an about-to-retire schoolmarmish lady judge of the Bombay High Court to be the Chairperson of DRAT.

Her Ladyship took the location in her stride and started scrupulously attending the tribunal.
As she got down in a spotless white saree from her off-white official car, she exuded authority.
Even her car easily stood out on that desolate lane outside the tribunal building.
It was the only red-light car in that red-light area.

For regulars, it became the landmark by which they came to know which of the buildings they should enter if they wished to be spared the expletives.
The facades of all the decrepit buildings in that lane looked alike.

As the DRAT matters involved high stakes and were a lucrative proposition, HC seniors were quite eager to be briefed in matters over there.

Thus, when the client in our story approached two counsels (a senior and a junior) for his matter in the DRAT they were more than happy to accept.
It was going to be their first time before this tribunal.

Friends had forewarned them about a severe parking problem in that narrow lane.
So they decided to hail a cab from just outside the High Court to reach the place.

What follows was narrated to me by the junior counsel in this story:

It was 10 am and the DRAT started work at 10.30 am.
The client hailed a taxi.

Cabbie: Kahan jaana hai?
Without answering, the client got in next to the driver and the two counsel, in full uniform (even clutching their gowns) got into the back seat of the cab.

Cabbie: Sahab, kidhar loon?

Client: Patthe Bapurao Marg

Cabbie: Woh kidhar hai Sahab?

Client: Arrey Baba, Falkland Road! Jaldi chalo.
Madam time pe shuru karti hai saade dus baje..

Cabbie: Aap logon ko Madam chahiye toh ye time galat hai Sahab..itney jaldi wahan kuch bhi nahin milega!

Client: Bakwaas band karo..jaldi karo.
Humara matter nikalne waala hai..
Cabbie (smiling knowingly and nodding at the passengers in the back seat):
Naye customer lagte hai..

The counsel were wondering why the cabbie was referring to them as “customers”.

As the taxi made its way past Musafirkhana and moved towards Kamathipura (areas with a shady reputation) it was quite evident to the counsel what kind of place they had reached.

Senior Counsel (to the client):
Are you sure you’ve got the right address?
Let’s ask someone.

So they stopped and asked a Pan-Bidi shopkeeper at the junction of Falkland Road.
He told them to drive on straight and stop after spotting a white car with a red light.
If they entered the door behind that car, that was where the DRAT was.

The cabbie then dropped them off opposite the car with the red light.
His face wore a perplexed look at the sight of a red-light car in the red-light area.

As the counsel got down and began surveying the surroundings, a few pimps sensed an opportunity and accosted them with sales talk.

The counsel hurriedly scrambled into the building and dashed up the stairs to reach the tribunal in time for their matter.

The lady judge, who knew the counsel from the HC, said she was happy to see them and hoped they had no difficulty in finding the place.

The senior counsel politely replied:
Not at all your ladyship.
Your car with its red light was our guide.

However, if the car with the red light was missing on some days many clients and counsel would enter the wrong door.. and suffered the consequences.

As was to be expected there were many representations.
Finally, they bore fruit.
The Falkland Road premises were surrendered.
DRAT shifted to another place.. .which soon caught fire and burnt down all its records.
All this was a long time ago..

The DRAT has now moved right next to the Colaba Fish Market.
The place has an unmistakable stink…even without the clientele and their lawyers.
Clients and lawyers still get mistaken as prospective “customers”.
But mercifully only by the fishmongers.