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Saturday, December 3, 2016

the story of Madras High Court - kept under lock for a day !

Every time one passes by, one is awe-struck by this magnificent edifice !

It is the brick mortar in red of the Madras High Court.   The  court is one of the three High Courts in India established in the three Presidency Towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras by Letters patent granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, bearing date 26 June 1862. It exercises original jurisdiction over the city of Chennai and appellate jurisdiction over the entire state of Tamil Nadu and Union territory of Puducherry. 

The eye-capturing building of the High Court is  an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture,  built in 1892 with the design prepared by J.W. Brassington and later under the guidance of the famed architect Henry Irwin, who completed it with the assistance of J.H. Stephens. Though Madras has not seen many wars and not certainly the World Wars – the High Court building was damaged in the shelling of Madras by S.M.S. Emden on 22 September 1914, at the beginning of the First World War. It remains one of the very few Indian buildings to have been damaged by a German attack.

The painted ceilings and the stained glass doors are masterpieces in themselves. The minars are quite attractive – they once housed the lighthouse of the city, which is decrepit now.  According to some reports, the lighthouse used kerosene to produce light with an intensity equivalent to that emitted by about 18,000 candles  ~ and perhaps that was one of the  reasons for attracting the attention of the German warship SMS Emden.   The Department of Posts has allotted a Postal Index Number (PIN) code of 600 104 to the zone occupied by the Madras High Court. The boundaries of the High Court complex are marked by  namely, Prakasam Road (formerly Broadway), NSC Bose Road  and Rajaji Road (the old North Beach Road)

Of the many statues, the decade old statue is apt symbolism – it is the majestic one of  Chola king Manuneethi Chozhan known to have ruled in the third century BC. This Tamil king is considered the embodiment of justice himself. Legend has it that he crushed his son under the wheels of the royal chariot just as his heir apparent had run over a calf !  By some accounts, it was Ellalan, Chozha king, who ruled  the Anuradhapura Kingdom, in present day Sri Lanka.  Arising out of that deed of executing his own son, when the cow moved the kingdom bell, he became ‘Manuneethi Chozha’.   

Now read this interesting article that appeared in Times of India dt 28.11.2016 :  The Madras high court was locked for 24 hours from 8pm on Saturday to 8pm on Sunday. Heavy locks and chains made sure that no one — judges, advocates or litigants — were allowed to enter the premises  !  - what Court premises locked out ?

No, justice was not locked out. The court was closed in keeping with a pre-British era tradition, one that requires the high court premises to be locked for 24 hours each year. Senior lawyers said the land for the construction of the court was acquired from a private person — whose name is lost with hoary antiquity — in the 1800s. Though the land was initially taken on lease, the ownership deed was later transferred to Lord Permual Temple on Parry's Corner. To ensure that no individual or entity claims ownership of the edifice, the court's administrators lock the court premises, hand over its keys to the chief priest of the temple and renew the lease agreement on one day each year.

The State Government continues to protect the building and site from bogus ownership claims while maintaining its status as a public property/pathway. In sync with the old tradition, the court's registry locks up the premises every last Sunday of November after putting up notices on its six gates that it would reopen on Monday. The current high court building moved to its brand new quarters from an edifice near Beach Station on July 12, 1892. Sir Arthur Collins, chief justice at the time, formally received permission to start proceedings in the new building from Madras Presidency governor Beilby Lawley, 3rd Baron Wenlock.

~ .. .. .. and well may it be closed for a day should it neither delay nor deny justice to those who seek it in its corridors.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
29th Nov. 2016-11-29

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