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Summer vacation for courts generates much heat

Mohamed Imranullah S.
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Introduced by the British, the holiday system is still in vogue

: Come May, almost all schools will close for the vacation. So will the Madras High Court Bench here. The judicial institution continues to follow the colonial practice, despite criticism from several quarters.

Much has changed since the British left the country, yet certain practices, such as having summer vacations introduced by them, continue to be in vogue.

In 2008, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, in its 28th report tabled in Parliament, stated that “the system of vacations is a colonial legacy that has no relevance today.”

The report went on to say: “Given the huge pendency of cases at various levels, including at the Supreme Court, vacation is a privilege that the judicial system could hardly afford.” It recommended that long court vacations were better done away with.

In 2009, the Law Commission of India chaired by Justice AR. Lakshmanan, wrote in its report to the Union Law Ministry recommending an increase in the number of working days for judges in order to clear huge pendency of cases at all levels of the judicial hierarchy.

“Of late, there has been a general erosion of work culture throughout the country. Government servants avoid discharging their duties and responsibilities. The judiciary has also been affected by this evil. It is high time that all the judges… devote full time to judicial work and should not be under any misconception that they are Lords or above society.

“Though this feeling must come from within, yet some guidelines are necessary,” the report stated. A similar view was expressed recently by former Supreme Court Judge A.K. Ganguly who had also served as the Chief Justice of Madras High Court and presided over court proceedings on the Madurai Bench.

In a recent interview, Justice Ganguly, not a supporter of court holidays, had gone to the extent of making a fervent appeal to various courts, where he had worked, to desist from declaring a holiday when he dies.

On the other hand, batting in favour of the vacation system, M. Thirunavukarasu, president of Madurai Bench High Court Advocates Association, says that judges as well as lawyers do require a break in view of the enormous physical and mental strain undergone by them through the year.

How it came into existence

According to jurists, the concept of summer vacations was introduced by erstwhile English judges who could not bear the scorching heat especially in places such as Madras (now Chennai) where the seasons are popularly described as hot, hotter and hottest.

In the days preceding air-conditioners and electric fans, judges were fanned by means of a broad fabric hung on the ceiling and pulled to and fro by servants, called Punkhawalas, squatting on the floor and tugging a rope.

In the Madras High Court, an English judge was in the habit of napping during the course of arguments, and the Bar was not amused.

He did so once when Edward Norton, a respected English barrister, was on his legs arguing an important case. Irked, Mr. Norton pushed a pile of law books to the ground floor.

The judge awoke with a start, and asked about the noise. The Barrister replied calmly: “Nothing My Lord. I was just telling this punkhawala that he is not a judge and so he may not go to sleep.”

The Madras High Court has come a long way since then and its Bench in Madurai boasts of centrally air-conditioned court halls that are provided with uninterrupted power supply round the clock, apart from heavy duty generators to meet contingencies.

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