Justice Anand Venkatesh has set an example to the nation’s judiciary.–Mhc advt Vijayaragavan author

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Justice Anand Venkatesh immunized his court from the viral impact

16 May 2020nv57

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Did someone tell that India was on national Lockdown? And the Judiciary too? Everyone forgot. It would appear that Justice Anand Venkatesh, Madras High Court was not told. Pendency of cases in courts is a perennial pandemic at the best of times. Add the viral impact of Covid-19. You have a recipe for disaster. But this gentlemen judge seems to have immunised the institution vis a vis his court, from the pandemic’s viral impact. At one level, it is weird and surreal, as Judiciary is struggling to overcome disruptive influences Pan India.

As the saying goes, “Never miss a good crisis”, Justice Anand Venkatesh was not one to miss it. But, it required boldness, imagination and back bending work. This learned judge was recently made a permanent judge after being appointed as an additional judge. He has now sat in literally every portfolio. Providentially, the Hon’ble Chief Justice, Madras High Court, as Master of the Roster, allotted him a portfolio, including handling of motor accidents claims.

That was new to him as Judge. It did not take him time for him to get off the blocks. He jumped headlong and passed an order dt. 5/5/2020 of epochal importance- withdrawing 23 motor accidents claims from various claims tribunals in Tamil Nadu, to the Madras High Court, exercising permissible powers, hitherto untapped, and recorded compromise worth Rs.51,59,000/-, putting the money in the hands of innocent motor accidents victims. A rescue and recovery package, most welcome in this financially stringent climate.

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It required deep learning, courage of conviction and willingness to assume responsibility than abdicate it. The following Table captures his stroke play from the constitutional pulpit in the State in rupee, anna and paise, which is what matters to the victim community, which’ more often than not belonged to the lower strata of society’, as Justice V R Krishna Iyer put it.

Table:

DateSumNo of Claimants
05-May-2051,59,00023
06-May-201,17,35,36812
07-May-20802495618
08-May-2093,11,00023
11-May-2077,27,00016
12-May-202,49,16,07166
13-May-201,05,38,70038
14-May-2019,56,0006
15-May-202,44,87,40019
Total10,38,55,495221

The Judge is a cricketer himself and showed his batting skills, with felicity as the runs accumulated show.

He was not finished yet. In all, between 4th May 5, 2020 to May 15, 2020, the period, he presided over this portfolio, he decided cases worth a staggering sum of Rs.10,38,55,495/- (Rupees Ten crores, thirty eight lakhs, fifty five thousand, four hundred and ninety five), No mean sum even in the ordinary times. Quite extraordinary in the abnormal times we live. The pitch on which he was performing, had been exposed to nature. It had potholes aplenty. It played tricks from ball one. It spun, skidded, sizzled, and would have bamboozled most. This judge was made of stern stuff as he encountered whatever was thrown at him, at full speed and enhanced the prestige of the institution he belonged to. That he came to the rescue of not merely victims of motor accidents, but also the community of advocates to which he belonged, no matter a Judge. He said, “Once a lawyer, always a lawyer”.

Be it claim petitions before claims tribunals in Tamil Nadu, or appeals pending before the High Court, he was creative enough to provide solutions, as if a stimulus package, to the lot of accident victims. That is only one part of what he accomplished as Justice, in these dark and difficult days.

The Judge found that it was not as if the High Court alone had such unique power. He pointed out that courts below viz. Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals in Tamil Nadu too had such power to accord compromise on the digital platform. Now, the claims tribunals are starting to issue notifications to this effect. Most importantly, other High Courts also appear to have picked up this ‘unusual’ path to follow the leader. How far they succeed, we shall have to wait and see.

Following upon these efforts, it was brought to his notice that the High Court was stressed for time and personnel in ‘drafting decrees’ apart from judgments, particularly in Pandemic times. The learned judge called upon counsel as Amicus and analysed threadbare the issues. By orders dt. 11/5/2020, the learned judge ruled that the 64 year old antiquated practice of ‘drafting decrees’ in motor accidents claims was not a mandate from law. He dispensed with this archaic practice before claims tribunals in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and possibly before High Court also. Judgments would suffice as Awards and no separate decrees need be drafted henceforth. Judicial staff handling this for 64 long years heaved a huge sigh of relief. And to think it happened when the viral dance was still on, is quite remarkable.

And then, considering the Videoconferencing platform he was on, he has recommended to the E-Committee of the Madras High Court, about an E-Presentation for litigation based on virtual.gov.in basis. Technology being the way to go, his nudge and a wink may just be the fillip.

He was not done with yet. When it was brought to his notice that motor accidents claims victims and the insurance companies were facing a vexed issue vis a vis Tax Deduction at Source under Sec.194-A, he took the assistance of 4 lawyers, including a designated Senior Advocate, and held a long hearing on 13/5/2020.

He was satisfied that there were two conflicting decisions on this issue from the Madras High Court. By orders dt.14/5/2020 he has directed a reference for resolution of the apparent conflict by a larger bench. The effort to cleanse the confusion would be appreciated more by those in the middle of the muddle. And the Covid-19 times enhances the value of his contribution to rid the befuddling confusion.

The series of orders tumbling out of his court has made mincemeat of the supposed Lockdown. Please note that the learned Judge has now put money worth Rs.10 crores and odd, in the hands of innocent accident victims, lending mite as more than a rescue and recovery package, they desperately needed.

Truth to tell, challenging times bring the best out of the best. It requires remarkable skill set, allied with boldness in imagination. It may be easy to sit back and acquiesce in the shutdown moment. To beat the forces and exploit the technology tools by tweaking the legal premises, for serving the cause of litigant public, makes the difference between run of the mill and the talented.

Pan India, before Judiciary, the cases escalated now, are new and in the moment, dealing with the Pandemic. But not those causes which can seek closure, which is the need of the moment. Legal fraternity comprising Judges and lawyers cannot be said to be in the legacy of Silicon Valley, the technology hub. This is a different Valley cocooned in its own physical space as robed brethren. Law takes to technology last. But abnormal situation requires extraordinary responses. A film buff, the Judge alluded to a movie ‘Melancholia’ as befitting such unusual characters. Cometh the crisis, cometh the man and a Judge.

This Madras High Court has beaten the odds and shown the way. It may make sense to emulate his worthy example. But it may take some doing to outwit his performance. We need more of this genre. Do we have?

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan-Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court. Disclaimer: the author appeared in many cases during this period before the learned Judge)

[5/17, 05:58] Vijayaragan Story Mhc Advt: Good Morning. Message from Mr. B S Raghavan, IAS(Retd)- 92 years- a living legend.Occupied huge positions up to UN. Continues to contribute and write on public issues. Chapeau.
[5/17, 05:58] Vijayaragan Story Mhc Advt: Vijayaraghavan: You have done an invaluable public service by spotlighting the proactive, innovative and even ingenious manner in which Justice Anand Venkatesh has set an example to the nation’s judiciary. Indeed, he has lent lustre to his position. How to make him know that his luminous performance on the Bench has not gone unnoticed, and in fact that it has earned well-merited recognition? Actually, the CJI should write a letter of high commendation to him and the fact should be widely publicised. At least, the CJ of Madras HC should do it. It would be nice if you use your good offices to that end.
All affection: B S Raghavan
[5/17, 05:58] Vijayaragan Story Mhc Advt: https://myvoice.opindia.com/2020/05/justice-anand-venkatesh-immunized-his-court-from-the-viral-impact/

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