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Vol. XXXI No. 12, October 1-15, 2021

The Madras Bar Association – 155th Year Commemorations

by Justice Prabha Sridevan

Retired Judge of the High Court of Madras

The volume to commemorate 155 years of the Madras Bar Association has these inspiring words inscribed on the cover “An expedition through an era of changing objectives but unchanging hope for justice.”

The volume is a kind of surprise. I expected to read some articles written by judges of the Supreme Court and High Court and senior lawyers. No, it actually records the role played by the MBA over these years. The picture on the cover is itself eloquent. On the left is Mr. M.K. Nambyar and the right is Mr. S. Govind Swaminadhan. In between are Mr. M.C. Setalvad, Hon’ble Mr. Justice P. Chandra Reddy and Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. I am looking at the gentlemen on the left and the right.

In 1967, Mr. M.K. Nambyar argued in the Golaknath case that the power of amendment of the Constitution was subject to the limitation that its essential features (or basic structure) cannot be destroyed.

In 1975 Chief Justice Ray constituted a 13-judge bench to overturn the Kesavananda Bharathi judgment or the Basic Structure judgment. Mr. Palkhivala objected that a review of Kesavananda could not be entertained on an oral request. Chief Justice Ray said that the petitioners had asked for review and that even the TN government had asked for a review.

Mr. Govind Swaminadhan who was then the Tamil Nadu Advocate-General, jumped up and said “We never even once asked for a review.” Once Chief Justice A.S. Anand narrated this to a few of us in the Madurai airport lounge and said that we owed a huge debt to him.

I’d like to think that of these two most illustrious members of the MBA one almost prophetically envisioned the Basic Structure doctrine and the other saved it from extinction and to see them on the cover fills me with pride.
The leaves from the Archives are very interesting. In September 1918, the Secretary Bar Association is informed that he was liable to ejected for non-payment of rent! The monthly subscription at one time was 3 Rs.! Just for these interesting details you can scan through it.

The Resolutions passed by the MBA declare and affirm the role of a responsible Bar. The MBA has strongly condemned the supersession of Judges Shelat, Hegde and Grover. The MBA has deprecated the practice of appointing Additional Judges since the incumbents did not exercise independent judicial attitude.( Italics mine). These are two samples.
In the section about the role of the MBA in ensuring that the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is sacrosanct, you get a list of the judgments in the cases filed by the MBA. It has played a very important role in ensuring that the tribunal does not push the Court out of the tent.

The pages in this volume speak of what is expected of the Bar, for indeed the Bar guards the guardian that is the Court. If the Bar fails there, whining is futile. Thanks MBA for this timely reminder!

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