Tamil Nadu had elected judiciary 1,200 years ago

September 01, 2014 03:04 am | Updated April 20, 2016 03:58 am IST - Chennai

CHENNAI, 29/08/2014: Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former director Tamil Nadu Archeologiy Department, documenting the Parantaka Chola inscription of 930 AD on the election of judges, carved on a door jamb at at Sri Bakthavatsala Perumal Temple at Tiruninravur near Chennai on August 29, 2014.  
Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

CHENNAI, 29/08/2014: Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former director Tamil Nadu Archeologiy Department, documenting the Parantaka Chola inscription of 930 AD on the election of judges, carved on a door jamb at at Sri Bakthavatsala Perumal Temple at Tiruninravur near Chennai on August 29, 2014. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Tamil Nadu had an elected judiciary more than 1,200 years ago, with rules stipulating that the judges should have sterling character ( su vrittaraiai iruppar ), should have passed examinations in legal treatises ( Dharma Sastras ), should rely only on written evidence ( lekhya pramanas ) and so on. This is borne out by two inscriptions in Tamil found at the Sri Ambalavana Swamy temple at Manur near Tirunelveli, and the Sri Bakthavatsala Perumal temple at Tiruninravur, 30 km from Chennai.

While the Manur inscription belongs to the Pandya king Maranjadayan of eighth century CE, the inscription at Tiruninravur is dated 930 CE, the period of Parantaka Chola I, according to R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department. The inscriptions lend historical context to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Bill, 2014, regulating the procedure for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the High Courts and the scrapping of the collegium system of selection of judges.

Dr. Nagaswamy said the Tiruninravur inscription talks about how the great village assembly ( mahasabha ) met during the 27th regnal year (930 CE) of Parantaka Chola I and passed a resolution prescribing qualifications for judges. The judges to be elected should have at heart the village’s welfare, they should be proficient in Dharma Sastra , they should not have served in any village administrative committee five years before their election and once their tenure of five years is completed, they cannot be a judge for another five years. The judges should give accounts of the fines they collected when they demit office. “The judges were fined heavily — they had to pay a heavy amount in gold to the village assembly if they gave wrong rulings,” Dr. Nagaswamy said.

“In the Manur lithic record, in addition to judges passing an examination in the legal texts, they should have sterling character, they should have studied one Veda because they belonged to the Brahmin village assembly,” Dr. Nagaswamy said.

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