A farewell to Chief Justice PR Ramachandra Menon

Justice PR Ramachandra Menon retired as Chief Justice of the High Court of Chhattisgarh on May 31, after a tenure that lasted almost two years.
Chhattisgarh High Court
Chhattisgarh High Court

Justice PR Ramachandra Menon retired as Chief Justice of the High Court of Chhattisgarh on May 31, after a tenure that lasted almost two years. As has been the apparent norm amid the existing health crisis, his Lordship bid farewell to the Court without the customary meet and greet that used to happen with all vigour and spirit prior to COVID-19.

These reflections hardly sum up the contribution that a judge makes to the society. However, my endeavour is to bring to fore what his Lordship’s tenure ought to be remembered for, while he departs for the next leg of his journey.

Two judicial capitals of Central India - Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) and Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) haven’t had the privilege of offering impressive indices, especially on the parameters of 21st century infrastructure as compared to other cities with a High Court. Take for instance, Indore, which is brimming with commercial activities and is coming up as a hub for investment.

In Bilaspur, where the Chhattisgarh High Court is situated, one of the issues plaguing the city was that of air connectivity. The demand for a fully functional airport was being echoed by the members of the Bar for a long time. The strength of the argument could be assessed if one was to appreciate that the city was contributing to 40% of the overall revenue being generated due to airline operations in Chhattisgarh, having lawyers who had multi-jurisdictional work. In fact a batch of PILs were pending before the Chhattisgarh High Court since 2017 in this regard.

While the base was laid by two erstwhile Chief Justices - TB Radhakrishnan and Ajay Tripathi, along with presiding judges of the Court, his lordship Justice Menon took the matter to its logical conclusion quickly into his tenure. As a result, today, the State has to its credit a fully functional airport in its judicial capital, which has not only brought ease and convenience to the people but also fuelled the aspirations of the Bar.

Another important issue that gained his Lordship's attention was more of an institutional concern ie, of senior designation. After reorganization, the Chhattisgarh High Court came into existence in the year 2000. The only previous instance of conferring the silk in 21 years of its existence was in the year 2005.

Since 2005, till the time his Lordship assumed office, the High Court saw eight Chief Justices who came and left, with some even being spring-boarded to the apex court. Yet the issue of designation of senior advocates could not gain much traction. Though the Indira Jaising judgment in 2017 resuscitated the matter to a large extent, the fact remains that it is the office of the Chief Justice which acts as the main propelling force behind such agendas, since it falls more on the administrative side.

Therefore, as we bid farewell to his Lordship, he must accept the biggest share of the credit for taking things forward. Showing his “commitment to the cause”, he took up the issue of senior designations amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, which impacted the regular functioning of the Court. The designation process, which was at the stage of interview in the month of May, had to be postponed due to the second wave of COVID-19. Justice Menon made sure that his efforts and the contribution of all his associate judges yielded results. And today, I share the ecstasy of the Bar in saying that the High Court, after a long haul of 15 years, has, under the guidance of Justice Menon, designated 12 members of the Bar as Senior Advocates.

Of course, these two outcomes are merely the tip of the iceberg of the glorious tenure that his Lordship had. But I am sure these two achievements would prove to redefine the Bar, which will always recall him with fond memories and immense gratitude.

The author is a government advocate for the State of Chhattisgarh and an advocate at the Supreme Court of India.

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