A call for accountability

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Justice K Chandru
Madras High Court As a lawyer, fought cases pro bono for the poor

During his student days, Chandru joined the SFI, the student wing of the CPI(M)
During his student days, Chandru joined the SFI, the student wing of the CPI(M)

JUSTICE K CHANDRU of the Madras High Court (HC) joined Justice D V Shylendra Kumar of the Karnataka HC and Justice K Kannan of the Punjab and Haryana HC in giving a boost to the campaign for making judges’ assets public. Last week, as the debate on the subject gained national prominence, Justice Chandru stated he was not averse to declaring his assets, though he would await a law on the issue.

This, coming from Justice Chandru, doesn’t surprise those who know him well. Since his younger days, he has always had a keen sense of right and wrong. During his student days, he joined the Students Federation of India (SFI), a wing of the CPI(M) and fought for student rights. As a student of Loyola College, he participated in a strike protesting against irregularities in the college hostel. He was expelled from the college when he was in his second year.

He continued his graduation in Madras Christian College (MCC). At MCC, he earned the management’s displeasure when he supported the workers of MRF, who were at loggerheads with the company management. The MRF owners were part of the MCC board. He was imprisoned for 15 days after defying a ban and speaking at an MRF workers’ meeting.

Later, he studied law. As an advocate in the Madras HC from 1976, he has appeared in many cases on human rights issues, workers and Dalit rights. “He was known as the ‘Fighting Spirit of the Madras High Court.’ He never took money from poor people to fight their cases,” says an acquaintance, M Punitha Pandian, editor of Dalit Murasu. Justice Chandru’s two-de – cade-long association with the CPI(M) ended in 1988 when the party expelled him for his support to the Sri Lankan Tamil cause.

As an advocate, he has obtained some landmark judgements. In one case, he obtained a judgement that struck down a government order which decreased the age limit after which Dalits would be ineligible to join arts and science degree courses. He has appeared in various POTA-related cases and has defended the likes of Vaiko, Nedumaran and Nakkheeran Gopal.

When news of his elevation to the judiciary broke, his friend, I Elangovan, head of the English department at Voorhees College, Vellore, wrote to him: “If you become a judge, your judgements will be read by learned advocates and cited as precedents; you will be locked up in a library. We want you to continue as a senior advocate and be a friend of the poor as you have been.”

Justice Chandru, advocates say, continues on the progressive path. “He has dispensed with the ceremonial carrying of the mace as he walks the corridors of the court,” said an advocate. The legal fraternity has even greater expectations from him.

PC VINOJ KUMAR

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