Tamil Nadu

Justice Tahilramani’s last administrative order was related to hearing of contempt petitions

Her decision led to the transfer of Ponn Manickavel’s contempt plea to regular Bench

The last of the significant administrative instructions issued by Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani before her resignation last week was an order stating that henceforth, civil contempt of court petitions should be listed only before the judges holding the relevant portfolio, in accordance with the duty roster prepared by her, and not necessarily before the judges whose orders had been allegedly disobeyed.

As a result, a contempt of court plea moved by Idol Wing CID special officer A.G. Ponn Manickavel against former Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan, retired Director General of Police T.K. Rajendran and a few other officials has now been listed before a Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and RMT. Teekaa Raman, after being taken away from a special Bench of Justices R. Mahadevan and P.D. Audikesavalu.

Idol theft cases

It was former Chief Justice Indira Banerjee (now a Supreme Court judge) who constituted the special Bench led by Justice Mahadevan in July 2018 for hearing all idol theft-related cases filed in the High Court. In accordance with her instructions, not just writ petitions, but also bail, anticipatory bail and government service-related matters involving officials connected to idol theft cases were listed before the special Division Bench.

Disposing of a writ petition filed by advocate ‘Elephant’ G. Rajendran, the special Bench, on November 30 last year, appointed Mr. Manickavel, a retired Inspector General of Police, as a special officer for a year to continue the probe into several idol theft cases registered across the State. The appointment was made just hours after he retired from service, and much to the unhappiness of the State government, which opposed the move tooth-and-nail.

Though the government took the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court, it could not succeed in getting the appointment nullified. During the subsequent hearings of idol theft cases before the special Bench, the government and the special officer traded charges against each other, with the former accusing Mr. Ponn Manickavel of insubordination and him accusing higher officials of interfering with his investigations.

Direction to HC Registry

In March, Chief Justice Tahilramani directed the High Court Registry to list only the writ petitions and the public interest litigation petitions related to theft of movable properties of temples before the special Bench, and to shift all other cases to the portfolio judges concerned. Accordingly, all criminal cases, including direction petitions, bail and anticipatory bail petitions were taken off the list of the special Bench.

In June, on her instructions, another notification was issued by the HC, dissolving the special Bench in toto on the ground that there were only a few writ petitions and PIL petitions related to idol theft cases, and hence, there was no necessity for a special Bench. Immediately, Mr. Manickavel filed a contempt petition against top government officials, forcing the Registry to reconstitute the special Bench. In the contempt plea, he accused the officials of not giving him a free hand to investigate idol theft cases, as ordered by the court. The contempt plea led to the reconstitution of the special Bench, since as per the rules in subsistence then, such petitions had to be heard only by judges whose orders had been supposedly disobeyed. During the course of the hearing, Additional Advocate General P.H. Arvindh Pandian expressed reservations over the way in which the case was being heard.

Nevertheless, the special Bench continued hearing the matter until the Chief Justice recently amended the existing practice and ordered that contempt petitions need not necessarily be listed before judges whose orders had been reportedly disobeyed.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:23:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/justice-tahilramanis-last-administrative-order-was-related-to-hearing-of-contempt-petitions/article29395599.ece

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