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Justice D. M. Chandrashekhar-A Centenary Tribute (26.9.1920 – 3.10.2003)

V.Sudhish Pai
26 Sep 2020 7:09 AM GMT
Justice D. M. Chandrashekhar-A Centenary Tribute (26.9.1920 – 3.10.2003)
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The very name Deshamudre Mallappa Chandrashekhar evokes feelings of reverence and brings to mind a gentle stalwart in every sense. He was indeed a colossus on whom everything sat lightly. He was a great judge and a great man, but he was more, almost approximating to an ideal. It is in the fitness of things that we remember and pay tribute to him on his birth centenary and record our gratitude for such a noble and exemplary life. He was the ultimate in being a gentleman. He did not wear his learning or great qualities on his sleeve. He had humility which Emerson said raises one to the highest point of sublimity and that wonderful quality of simplicity of nature which Tennyson spoke of the Iron Duke: And, as the greatest only are, In his simplicity sublime.

This is an occasion for remembering, rejoicing and introspecting. Tradition, said Carlyle, is an enormous magnifier. But traditions are not like instant coffee. Each generation would have to imbibe and cherish them. Prof. Upendra Baxi aptly observed that we live in an era of massacre of ancestors which is now considered a public virtue and a sign of worldly progress. But collective amnesia of what happened in the past is not an estimable value. Without living in the past, its recall is important, for it necessarily presages a future. We cannot forget the enduring relevance of the past and its torch bearers.

Justice Chandrashekhar was born on September 26, 1920 at Tiptur. His father Shri D.S. Mallappa was active in public life and was a member of the erstwhile Mysore Legislative Council. He was one amongst the earliest to stage a walk out of the House which earned him the sobriquet of Walkout Mallappa. His mother was Smt.Gangamma. Among their eight sons and two daughters, Chandrashekhar was the second child and son. He did his schooling at Tiptur and collegiate studies at Intermediate College and Central College, Bangalore from where he graduated in 1940 with a degree in Economics. He studied law at Government Law College, Bombay and secured his law degree in 1942. 1942 was the age of national fervour and the peak of the freedom struggle with the Mahatma's clarion call to the British in August 1942 to quit India. Young Chandrashekhar participated in the Quit India Movement and was in jail for sometime. He then proceeded to do his Masters in Economics from Central Hindu College, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi where the venerable Dr. Radhakrishnan was the then Vice Chancellor. He obtained the MA degree in 1944 securing the first rank and winning the gold medal. He then joined Government service but resigned sometime later. On May 23, 1945 Chandrashekhar married Smt. Umadevi who is now only 5 years short of a century and is happily with us. They have two sons- Amarnath who is an engineer and settled in the US and Shivdev who is into the advertising industry and is in Bangalore.

Chandrashekhar was enrolled as an Advocate on January 24, 1946 and started his career in law which was to be his lifelong profession. For a long time he was a junior of Shri Ethirajulu Naidu, a doyen of the Bar and the State's Advocate General for several years as also the Standing Counsel for Income Tax Department. All this gave Chandrashekhar a great exposure to a variety of cases and a large canvas of practice and a firm grounding in various branches of law. The senior reposed immense confidence in him and the junior fully justified it and lived up to the senior's expectations. His practice was generally in the High Court and included civil, criminal, constitutional and tax cases. He tried to enter public life like his father and unsuccessfully contested as a candidate for the State Assembly from Tiptur constituency in the first general election in 1952. That was his only short brush with politics. He then concentrated on law alone and made it really good. Chandrashekhar was Government Pleader in the High Court from November 1957 to March 1963 and he handled the bulk of the State's litigation. Between March 1963 and September 1963 he was Assistant Advocate General. Whether as counsel for a private litigant or for the State and its authorities, his preparation for a case was always thorough and his arguments were succinct and objective. A fair opponent, he graciously conceded untenable positions. He was held in high esteem by the judges and the advocates and commanded respect and admiration.

Chandrashekhar was appointed Additional Judge of the then Mysore High Court on September 20, 1963 and then began a glorious judicial career. He became a permanent judge on March 15, 1965. In July 1976, at the height of the spurious Emergency he was transferred to the Allahabad High Court. This was considered a case of victimization for his bold and ringing judgment in the Habeas Corpus case of the Opposition leaders. On May 9, 1977 he was appointed Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court. He declined judgeship of the Supreme Court. It is interesting that in his letter to the Chief Justice of India on October 3, 1977, Justice Chandrashekhar requested the CJI to withdraw his name from the CJI's recommendation for the judgeship of the Supreme Court. He was transferred back to the Karnataka High Court as Chief Justice on March 22, 1978 and retired as such on September 25, 1982. These are the bare details, but they hardly reveal his qualities as a judge and a man.

His judicial tenure was marked by a sound knowledge of law, a true sense of justice tempered with mercy, sturdy uprightness, staunch independence, sterling integrity. He discharged the duties of his office and dispensed justice absolutely in consonance with his judicial oath. No considerations except the merits of the case ever mattered to him. It might be said of him as was said of Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, that no junior felt embarrassed in his court where good law was well administered and he ever walked with a firm step holding aloft the torch of justice. His one burning desire was to do real justice. He was patience personified. He did not lose his temper or indulge in cheap jokes. He treated everyone with unfailing courtesy and unfeigned humility. All who knew him or came in contact with him will recollect with nostalgic pleasure his innate graciousness. He never dismissed any case for default. Indeed, no judge worth his salt is expected to do that. That is not dispensing justice, but dispensing with justice and adding to the statistics; that is not what judges are there for. If lawyers were not present, he would send for them and hear them at their convenience. A court room is to reflect an atmosphere of freedom and fairness. As Justice Chagla said, discourtesy to the Bar is essentially evidence of weakness in the judge and while dispatch is important, dispatch at the cost of justice is a complete perversion of the judicial process. In Justice Chandrashekhar's court none felt ill at ease and all were sure that every effort was made to see that right was not worsted and that wrong did not triumph. His 19 years long tenure as judge and chief justice of two premier High Courts is reflected in the law reports and his judgments cover a wide spectrum of the law. He was particular that a judge had to give his best to every judgment or order that he wrote and therefore he should bestow his full attention and, if necessary, revise and re -revise whatever is written.

Justice Chandrashekhar was soft as a flower and hard as a diamond. While he was always gentle, kind and soft spoken, he could be quite stern and unwavering in upholding the rights of the people and the independence and dignity of the judiciary.

As the senior most puisne judge of the Karnataka High Court he had told the then Chief Justice of India, Shri A.N.Ray who wanted to sit in the court on the dais with the High Court judges so as to help him make appointments to the Supreme Court, that the High Court judges were not inviting him (CJI) or permitting him to sit with them. He said that under the Constitution the High Court was not administratively subordinate to the Supreme Court and the CJI sitting on the dais to watch the proceedings would give an impression that he was inspecting the High Court which he was not entitled to. To the CJI's remark that he would be justified in sitting on the dais because he had a constitutional responsibility of recommending suitable judges of the High Court for appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice Chandrashekhar typically replied that in that event the High Court judges were not interested in becoming judges of the Supreme Court. What a stellar example of independence and integrity!

During the Emergency, he presided over the Bench dealing with preventive detention cases and habeas corpus petitions. He would direct that detenus be brought to the court when their cases were being heard. This was to enable them to watch the arguments in their cases and even more to help them come outside the jail, breathe some fresh air and see their relatives, friends and lawyers. So great was his solicitude for liberty and the sentiments of the citizens.

In the habeas corpus petition of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Justice Chandrshekhar (in tune with many other High Courts) held that while the proclamation of emergency or its continuance was not justiciable, in spite of the Presidential Order suspending enforcement of the fundamental rights under Arts 21 and 22, the court could examine whether the order of detention was in accordance with law and satisfied the conditions precedent for the exercise of the power, whether it was malafide and whether it was based on relevant material, and pass appropriate orders accordingly. This view of nine High Courts was overturned by the Supreme Court in ADM, Jabalpur. The law declared therein was nullified by the Constitution 44th Amendment Act in 1979; while the obsequies were performed in the Privacy judgment in 2017. His judgment in favour of the citizens, upholding the right to personal liberty resulted in his transfer to Allahabad in July, 1976. But it earned him the admiration and esteem of all lovers of liberty. He had adhered to his conscience and the judicial oath and a true interpretation of the Constitution.

Post retirement, Justice Chandrashekhar deeply involved himself in social service and devoted his time and energy to many a noble cause. His life and work exemplified simple living and high thinking. He knew with Disraeli that money is not the measure of a man, but it is often the means of finding out how small he is. We recall Justice Brandeis' telling remark that independence comes not from the amount one earns, but from how one spends whatever one earns, that is, from the kind of life one leads. The purpose of arbitration is to achieve simplicity, expedition and economy. Justice Chandrashekhar would hold most of his arbitration sittings in Gandhi Bhavan. That ensured minimum expense for the parties and also meant some contribution to a noble cause. There is the instance of the party proposing that the arbitration be held at Hotel West End, Bangalore and Justice Chandrashekhar suggesting and having it fixed up at Gandhi Bhavan. The fee that he charged as arbitrator was meagre, particularly compared to the present day mercenary tendencies. Once he was an arbitrator in a case where one of the parties was a British company. Some sittings were in London. The sittings extended over the weekend. He was put up in Hotel Savoy in London. He considered such luxurious accommodation a criminal waste of money and shifted to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for his stay. Such was his sense of austerity. In another arbitration between NGEF and a German company- AEG, he found, on making a study, that NGEF had a weak case and continuing with the arbitration was unnecessary, avoidable expenditure and an award going against NGEF would be a drain on the tax payer's money. He accordingly advised a settlement which was entered into between the parties thus saving public money. This was the man.

His sense of austerity and lack of ostentation are also borne out by the fact that when people from his home town Tiptur wanted to felicitate him on his becoming the Chief Justice, he quietly turned down the offer and asked them instead to spend the money they had earmarked for the felicitation for improving civic amenities in their place.

Justice Chandrashekhar was equally simple and unostentatious in his personal life. He was a true Gandhian. He was frugal in his habits. He preferred to walk rather than go by car whenever the distance to be covered was walkable. He was generous to a fault, spending so little on himself. He was blessed with a life partner who shared his ideas and ideals. Smt. Umadevi denied herself many worldly pleasures and comforts to keep pace with her sage-like husband and rendered it easy for him to live his life in the manner he wished and donate his time, attention and money for worthy causes. Even in his death he was the same. He passed away quietly and unobtrusively as to the manner born on October 3, 2003 aged 83. In accordance with his Will his eyes were donated to an eye bank and his body handed over to the Anatomy Department of M. S. Ramaiah Medical College for medical research. As directed, the liquid assets out of the savings of his individual income were donated to charity.

"…If human life is not to suffer from incompleteness and imperfections, it has to seek satisfaction from those inner yearnings, deep and dormant, which manifest themselves in emotions and feelings, the craving in the human heart for things of beauty, of art, things which put us in tune with the still sad music of humanity and the melody born out of the pain and joy of life." Justice Chandrashekhar was fully aware of this verity and for him all power and authority were only mere wayside stops in an exciting journey of exploration of the moral and spiritual dimensions of one's personality. It may be said of him that he prized most of all an untarnished soul, striving to set his own standards and values and live in the world without seeking its approval or flinching at its detraction. He was aware that the only footprints that remain on the sands of time and are indeed worth leaving, are the footprints that are formed and grow out of a man's competence and character. All outward embellishments, all that one normally considers very valuable, the trappings of office, the paraphernalia that surrounds it, the pomp and show that become an accompaniment of status, are rooted in the weakness of human nature. No man of vision or substance attaches importance to them. Justice Chandrashekhar never did. He endeavoured to so live as to fulfill Rudyard Kipling's prayer: Grant us the strength that cannot seek/In thought or word to harm the weak/ That under thee we may possess/ Man's strength to comfort man's distress.

It is a sad reflection on the spirit of our times that half- baked ideas reared by chance have sway and what is expedient passes for the ethical. The engulfing tides of the general decline in values and ideals in society as a whole have not turned their course and passed by any individual or institution. The crucial issue is to restore the ethical and moral dimension to our individual and public life.

Sure footed time will tread out lesser figures. Justice Chandrashekhar will continue to live in our minds and hearts. As Thomas Campbell said he is not dead 'whose glorious mind lifts thine on high, to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.' If our heritage is not to perish and our society is to endure, we need to remember and honour such men. In an atmosphere where pursuit of the higher and nobler ideals is becoming increasingly rare, it is well for us to pause and take count of our coarser selves. It will be fruitful to recall and take inspiration from men like him. He has a lesson to teach us, if we care to stop and learn; a lesson quite at variance with most that we practise and much that we profess. The greatest tribute one can pay a man is to emulate him and carry forward his legacy. That is what we owe to ourselves.

These beautiful words from Milton's Paradise Lost aptly describe Justice Chandrashekhar:

…….. unmoved,/Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,/ His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal,/ Nor number, nor example, with him wrought / To swerve from truth or change his constant mind.

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