Work on multi-crore museum that will replace existing one to begin in January

A small piece of parchment in storage at the library of the Madras High Court has history written all over it.

It has on it the oath taken by a group of British judges of the Supreme Court of Madras, the first modern judicial system in the country, in 1801.

Such pieces of history will soon see the light of day as the work on the new museum in the High Court complex will begin in January.

Officials of the Public Works Department (PWD) are busy giving final touches to the plan for the multi-crore project. A city-based company has been selected to construct the museum. The project, funded through general funds of the State government, is to mark the 150 year of the Madras High Court, one of the three oldest high courts in the country that was formed in 1862. The other two are the Calcutta and Bombay high courts.

“Most of the paperwork has been completed and the project is awaiting clearance from the finance committee of the State government, which is expected in a week. The work is expected to start in a fortnight and the entire work is expected to be completed in 15 months,” said a PWD source.    

Estimated to cost Rs. 10 crore, the two-storey new museum that will replace the existing cramped museum at the north-eastern side of the High Court will be spacious and environment-friendly. The design and decoration of the new museum, including wall panelling, false ceiling, glazed tiled flooring and air conditioning as well as the showcases and the illumination of the entire museum complex, will be done by engineers of the PWD.

Experts from the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, and curators from the Madras Government Museum at Egmore will also be roped in for the designs, interiors, arrangement of show cases and display of articles and rare collections.

“This court has a rich heritage of its own and such a big museum housed in a separate building will help the public to spend quality time in understanding that rich heritage,” said 78-year-old curator of Madras High Court museum, T Krishnamoorthi.  

The existing museum was the brain child of Justice Markandey Katju, who after assuming office as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court took steps to start a museum with the limited collection available. On April 9, 2005, the existing museum was opened with around hundred collections, making the Madras High Court the second to have a museum on its own after Allahabad High Court.

However, many rare collections were unable to find space at the existing museum and were stored in the shelves of the library or in the record rooms of the High Court. Some of those rare collections, including copies of Mahatma Gandhi’s speech during his maiden visit to the High Court for the annual law dinner meet in 1915, several judgements given by British judges before the formation of the High Court, judges uniform including robes used for more than a century and objects including wooden pens used for writing judgements during the 1900s, will find space at the new museum with a brief description about each collection.

“Many portraits of British judges during the 19th century and prominent Indian barristers in the early 20 century will also form part of the new collection at the museum,” said a court official.

The High Court committee will also invite contributions, relating to the court and the judiciary, for the new museum. A circular will also be issued to subordinate judiciaries to send to the museum articles, records and registers having historical and antique value.



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