Reflections on a Golden Jubilee

 

Hon'ble Mr. Justice K S Garewal

 

        Once upon a time, not very long ago, on a sparsely populated plateau, there existed hamlets and homesteads inhabited by small farmers, shepherds and artisans.  Their land was of very poor quality, soil was prone to erosion by seasonal rivulets, the nearby hills were densely wooded and abounded in game.  Water from artesian wells fulfilled their basic needs and their crops were largely rain-fed.  There was no electricity for homes or farms, neither free nor metered.  A rudimentary form of water harvesting was practices and this valuable resource was not wasted.  Everyone lived simple and uncomplicated lives.

       Progress came in the shape of Chandigarh and things began to change.  The villagers were displaced after receiving a few hundred rupees per acre as compensation and they left without demur.  The plateau got transformed into a well planned and beautifully laid-out city of spacious bungalows, gardens, parks and markets but a city which is perennially short of water.

       The city and its peripheral towns and villages are presently home to over two million people.  The city possesses two siblings, Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar (Mohali) towards its south-west and Panchkula towards its south-east.  This agglomeration has even earned the inelegant epithet of tri-city.  Chandigarh's eastern flank is covered by the Western Army headquartered at Chandimandir. Towards its western and northern borders is the unplanned, cluttered poor quarter, a pseudo-suburbia of some of the original villages which have grown into unrecognizable slums.  Between the city and Chandimandir lies Mansa Devi, and to its south is Mani Majra, where a spanking new technology park is coming up.  In between the planned residential areas and the shabby suburbs lie shanty colonies housing poor working class migrant labour, easterners from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, displaced by poverty in their own states.

       Beyond the periphery of the City stretches the great Punjab plain, gently sloping towards southwest where the five rivers, together with the river that gave India its name, flow towards the sea.  To the City's south is Haryana, all the way down the Grand Trunk Road , past the battlefields of Kurukshetra and Panipat, between the Jamuna and the Thar, upto the national capital and beyond, bounding Delhi on three sides.

       Undeniably it is the impressive mountainous backdrop which has not changed.  The Kasauli range has stood out in bold relief, since time immemorial, keeping an eye on the city and watching it grow from a sleepy little town to a vibrant urban centre of government, business, commerce, health and education.  The profile of the hill etches out a line on a graph and is something no visitor to the city can forget.  However over the years the hill has been denuded of its forest cover, its stately oaks, dense deodars and cheel pines are all but gone.  Illegal felling and forest fires have been taking a regular toll of these once lovely forests.  The atmosphere has become hazy with with dust and pollutants, both industrial and vehicular.  There was a time when pollution was non-existent, the hills were green and provided a clear view of themselves, even the snowcapped Churdhar in Sirmour and the Dhauladhar in Kangra would be visible on extra clear days.  From the hilltops one could clearly see a well laid city below.  This is no longer possible.  The countryside in which Chandigarh came up is gone for good.  The call of the partridge, the dance of the peacock, the slight of hare stunned by car lights, the howl of jackals at night are neither seen nor heard any more.

       The Court was established on the eastern edge of the new Capitol Complex designed by the well-known Swiss born and Paris based architect Charles-Edouard Jenneret, better  known as Monsieur Le Corbusier.  Facing the Court was the Civil Secretariat, looking like an ocean-liner. A little to one side was the Assembly Hall resembling its engine room, complete with a chimney on top –ship of state as it were.  The Court’s building was set a few hundred yards away at a respectable distance.  It was said to resemble a mouth-organ, others called it a barn.  The windswept plateau slowly acquired the pretensions of being a city, and that too the capital of Punjab .

       The Court sat in the new Palais de Justice for the first time on January 17, 1955, on reopening after the Christmas break, during which it migrated lock, stock and barrel from Simla to Chandigarh.  There was a simple and dignified flag hoisting ceremony, afterwards speeches were delivered by Advocate-General Sarv Mittra Sikri (elevated as Judge, Supreme Court in 1964 and Chief Justice of India 1971-73), President of the Bar, Amolak Ram Kapur and Chief Justice Amar Nath Bhandari.  The Court was presided over by Chief Justice G.D. Khosla, I.C.S., Justice Harnam Singh, M.A., LL.B., Justice D.Falshaw, I.C.S., Justice J.L.Kapur, Bar-at-law, Justice S.S. Dulat, I.C.S. and Justice Bishan Narain, Bar-at-law.  The formal inauguration of the Court by the late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru actually took place two months later on March 19, 1955.  The Judges and about 72 lawyers, including some of the original 64 who had migrated from Lahore, descended on Chandigarh from the mountain fastness of Simla which had been the Court's home since partition in 1947.

       Those days most lawyers and their clerks used bicycles as the favoured mode of transport and upon the carriers of the bicycles were placed their slim briefs and law books.  Nowadays a few thousand cars bring the honourable gentlemen of the legal profession to Court.  One did not see the large tomes one sees today nor the fat briefs that are brought every morning to the Court only to be carried back in the evening to be brought back again the next day.  How one hopes that laptops come into greater vogue soon and with increasing computerization we are able to function in a paperless way.  Contemporary briefs have a tendency to fatten with time.  Briefs in the old days were slim and the legal points were succinctly argued and quickly pronounced upon. And what a joy it still is to read the judgments delivered by the Judges of yore.

       The pendency of cases and the arrears situation was not grim, not even a hundredth of what one has today.  Judges sat at 10, often rose for the day by lunchtime, early afternoons were consumed in dictating judgments and by 4 they would be off for a set or two off tennis, and later to the club for a few rubbers of bridge.  During the winter season some would drive off for an afternoon shoot a bag a some birds for the pot before settling down in front of a log fire to enjoy their libations.  The idyllic setting has disappeared for good.

       One of the main reasons for shifting the High Court from Simla to Chandigarh was convenience of the litigants and to give them equal opportunity to secure justice.  It was extremely hard for a petitioner, an appellant or the respondent to travel all the way to Simla from say, Hissar or Gurgaon or Ferozepur.  Often the parties would bring along with them their District Court lawyers to brief their High Court counterparts on their behalf.  The cold  and wet weather of the hills was daunting for the lawyers and the litigants from the plains.

       The litigants who earlier had to trek to Simla began to flock to Chandigarh.  A trickle in the 50s became a steady stream in the 60s & 70s.  It is now a mighty torrent.  The strength of the Bar is up from 35 to 4150.  The strength of the Bench is up from 6 to 28 with quite a few vacancies.  Correspondingly judicial work has expanded exponentially to keep the lawyers busy.  A huge mass of humanity visits the Court every day.   When the Court sits at 10 every morning a gigantic judicial drama unfolds, its myriad jurisdictions come into play and the streams of justice begin to flow from the fount of justice which the Court rightfully represents.  May the streams of justice every remain clear, clean and pure.

       In a sense, I too am a migrant from Lahore.  My parents had lived there till June 1947 and moved to Delhi to a house in the vicinity of Hardinge (now Tilak) Bridge, very close to where the Supreme Court of India was to be built some years later.  I was born in September, a few weeks after Independence .  The site for the Supreme Court of India had been our playing field.  I had watched with awe the building of the Supreme Court coming up.  I had no idea of law except that if you broke school rules you could be punished.  It was after the family moved to the farm in Ludhiana in 1967 that I thought of taking up legal studies.  My final decision to join the legal profession was taken in 1972, after declining an opportunity to become a civil servant.

       It was in January 1975 that I entered the portals of the High Court as a young lawyer, full of hope, idealism and a desire to help the common man.  I had already put in over two years in the chambers of a Barrister in the District Courts at Ludhiana.  I had prepared my first case well and I thought I had put it across nicely but it was dismissed in a jiffy at 10.05 am and I was free for the rest of the day motion hearings those days concluded by 11 am, nowadays motion hearings drag on till later afternoon, leaving little time for regular hearing of admitted cases.

       I heard and saw many stalwart Judges and lawyers in my ten years at the Bar of the Court.  I made my final bow in 1986 and gave up chasing lucre to retreat into the shell of security provided by judicial service.  Fourteen years later I was taken on the Bench.  It is the misery and hardships suffered by ordinary men that has kept me and my family in food and raiment.  I shall ever be grateful to the Court for this opportunity to serve the public and be useful to society. This has enabled me, in a small way, to repay my debt of gratitude to the common man.

       Our Golden Jubilee is an occasion to think about the shape of things to come.  Industrialization on a global scale will lead to massive urbanization and shall throw up new problems of administration of justice. People shall demand better governance, quicker resolution of disputes and effective enforcement as well protection of their rights.  The Judiciary shall be required to come up with new and better solutions.  Every Judge shall have to think globally while acting locally.

       The Bench and the Bar shall be required to act together with much greater cohesion to meet new challenges.  Alternative means of dispute resolution to reduce arrears shall have to be more effectively used.  We shall have to improve the flow of cases and manage them better.  However, we shall at all times have to remain focused on delivery of quick, effective and inexpensive justice to all.  I am certain that a new era has dawned and our court shall soon reoccupy its pre-eminent position in the vanguard of Indian Judiciary.