Attorney General of India KK Venugopal was among the dignitaries present on Monday evening at the first Professor (Dr) NR Madhava Menon Memorial Lecture. While rendering his memorial address, Venugopal observed,
“We have lost a giant in the field of legal education and I have personally lost a friend.”
Dubbed as the father of modern Indian Legal Education, Dr. NR Madhava Menon passed away earlier this month at the age of 84. He is credited for revolutionising the field of legal education by establishing National Law Schools and by introducing the 5-year integrated LL.B. programme in India.
Among the other dignitaries present were Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy of the Kerala High Court, former Kerala High Court Judge R Basant, and Dr. Saroja Bhaskar, former principal of the Government Law College (GLC) Ernakulam and convenor of the Prof (Dr) Madhava Menon Memorial Committee. Advocate Johnson Gomez rendered the welcome address, whereas KHCAA President, Sunil Jacob Jose rendered the presidential address.
An irreplaceable loss
Venugopal recalled his association with Dr. Madhava Menon, whom he had known since as early as 1962.
He informed the audience that Dr. Menon realised early on that the legal education sector was in need of reform. A possible prelude to this realisation was a request made to Dr. Menon by the Bar Council of India (BCI) to investigate the state of the Bar in India.
The request was made in the 1980s. Dr. Madhava Menon carried out the study first in Tamil Nadu, on an experimental basis. He eventually reported thad as far as young practitioners were concerned, the field of law was not lucrative. The sad state of affairs was in part caused by the state of legal education. Venugopal recounted,
“What Madhava Menon realised at that time was that the education in this country, so far as legal education was concerned, was so substandard that the students who graduated were unable to get a foothold in the profession unless they had a godfather.“
He went on to explain that law was not viewed as an ideal career at the time.
“At that time, most of the young students…would opt for medicine [or] engineering. So far as law is concerned, it was the last resort. The law colleges had any number of seats vacant, and there was no difficulty in getting a seat. But what was the nature of education? I myself had failed my BSc and was sitting at home.”
Venugopal went on to pursue law at a suggestion made by his father, MK Nambiar, himself a doyen in the legal profession. Venugopal remarked that ideally, legal education should be such that a student should be able to address the Court confidently without assistance.
“…that is the transformation that Dr NR Madhava Menon brought about.”
Dr. Menon introduced the five-year integrated law programme. Secondly, admissions to these programmes were to be strictly on merit. And finally, Dr. Menon proposed that the nature of such study should be through case studies, moot courts etc.
“It was a total transformation which no body believed could ever be brought about…His [Dr Menon’s] success is seen from the fact that there are now 23 National Law Schools.”
A plan had also been underway in the 1990s to start a National Law School in Kerala, Dr. Madhava Menon’s native state. In pursuit of the plan, Dr. Menon and KK Venugopal had also met the then Chief Minister EK Nayanar. Nayanar was also enthusiastic about starting an NLS in Kerala. Accordingly, a Bill was prepared in 1996, dubbed the MK Nambiar National University of Legal Sciences Bill.
However, as luck would have it, the State government at the time fell within 15 days. The first proposal for an NLS at Kochi also eventually fell through as well.
“But I don’t mind. Because now we have NUALS [National University of Advanced Legal Studies]. NUALS is an excellent law school. Therefore, I am quite happy about it.”
He went on to narrate an inexhaustive list of achievements and initiatives associated with Prof (Dr) Madhava Menon.
“Name it, and his [Prof Dr Madhava Menon’s] was the name that first came into anybody’s mind in any matter connected with legal education.”
Therefore, Venugopal proceeded to observe that Dr. Madhava Menon was rightfully considered a giant in the field of legal education. Venugopal also informed the audience that Dr. Menon never accepted any remuneration for the efforts he put into the MK Nambiar Academy of Continuing Legal Education, despite being its Director. All the same,
” [He] Spent day and night trying to make the institution a success..”
On a concluding note, he said that Dr. Menon’s passing symbolised an irreplaceable loss.
“Wherever we go, we can never find the equivalent of NR Madhava Menon…we can never find another Madhava Menon. There will never be another person like him who willingly…sacrifices himself for the cause of legal education.”
Reminiscing the time spent with his teacher
“…let us not mourn Dr Madhava Menon who lived a full and meaningful life as a pioneer of the modern legal education in India. Instead let us silently say a small prayer so that our teacher’s noble soul rests in eternal peace and that the memory of his life’s work is never forgotten.”
Justice Hrishikesh Roy was also a student of Dr. Madhava Menon. Among other anecdotes, Justice Roy recalled a visit he made to the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal. Dr Madhava Menon, along with Professor Upendra Baxi, spoke during the two-day deliberations conducted at the Academy. During this time, Justice Roy recounted,
“They used to invariably point or name one of two of their favourite students. And it was getting to be increasingly annoying.”
However, Justice Roy found an opportunity to confront Professor Madhava Menon, in lighter vein, at the Bhopal Airport on his way back to Delhi.
“I told ‘Sir, I have a complaint against you.’ He was a little surprised”, recounted Justice Roy.
He went on to explain to his former teacher,
“Sir, in law college, the professors and the teachers, they equally remember the brightest and perhaps the naughtiest. I was neither…why so much attention to one or two of our batchmates of that year?”
Professor Menon, however, responded with grace. Justice Roy informed the gathering,
“He said ‘yes, I’m sorry it should not have happened. As a teacher, I must recognise everybody equally.’
So that was Professor Menon.”
Interestingly, this anecdote featured one more legal luminary. Justice Roy went on to recount,
“But I didn’t allow the matter to rest there. Now I wrote a letter to the concerned person whom both Madhava Menon and Upendra Baxi was remembering very often over the course of those two days.
The letter goes like this,
‘Dear Dhananjaya, this letter is on account of my recent visit to the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal… where professor Upendra Baxi and Professor Madhava Menon were amongst the resource persons.
As it so happens, among the revered teachers remember only their most brilliant students or perhaps the notoriously mischievous ones. Not surprisingly, you were remembered both by Professor UB and Professor MM as a sterling example of the educational capabilities of the Delhi University’s Campus Law Centre. I had no issues with that.
But while waiting at the Bhopal airport, I mentioned to Professor Madhav Menon about the enamoured teacher members of the DFC – the Dhananjaya Fans Club. The 1982 Campus Law Centre graduates do take pride in the achievements of their peers and it is in that spirit that this letter is sent…with warm regards…‘”
“As you would guess”, Justice Roy said to an amused crowd, “this letter was addressed to Dhananjaya Chandrachud, who was my batch mate, and who graciously acknowledged this letter and wrote back.”
As he wound up his address, Justice Roy pointed out,
“So Professor Menon’s students have achieved great heights in different fields…Students whom he taught have themselves produced great scholars of law..”
Why Professor Madhava Menon was an unparalleled Institution Builder
Senior Advocate R Basant was also present to render his tribute to Professor (Dr) Madhava Menon. Prior to his speech, Chief Justice Roy found the opportunity to make a reference to Justice Basant’s present practice at the Supreme Court as “a busy lawyer…who has this annoying habit of challenging all my orders in the Supreme Court…“
On his impression of Professor Madhava Menon, Justice Basant said,
“First and foremost, he was a teacher. He always took pride in that he was a teacher. “
“I don’t think the expression ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ would be apt…he was the guru and his students would be called his disciples or his shishyas.”
Justice Basant went on to point out that Professor Menon’s students performed exceedingly well, so much so that he could be credited for having nurtured an Indian law army.
He remarked that the transformation in the quality of legal education is beyond recognition following the efforts of Professor Menon.
Justice Basant went on to herald Professor Menon as an institution builder. Recalling Professor Menon’s success with the National Law School of India (NLSIU), Bangalore and the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata Justice Basant remarked,
“He set all these institutions on such an even keel that they could run properly even now. All the institutions built by him are at the very top because of this dedication. That I believe makes him an outstanding, unparalleled institution builder.”
This apart, Justice Basant also expressed his appreciation for Professor Menon’s critical voice.
“He was a very bold, a very brave, a very fearless campaigner and critic of the system whenever such criticism was warranted.”
He observed that Professor Menon was at times the “conscience keeper ” for the judiciary, acting as a mirror when things went wrong.
Finally, Justice Basant highlighted that Professor Menon was always “yearning to pursue excellence”, a reason why he should be emulated as a role model.
“Whatever cause he undertook, you could always see this element of the pursuit of excellence. He was the best. He did everything in the best possible manner.”
The vote of thanks at the event was rendered by Dr. Saroja Bhaskar. While concluding the address, Dr. Bhaskar remarked that Professor Madhava Menon should be credited for bringing about a paradigm shift in legal education to bring it in tune with harsh ground realities.
“The result is for all to see, cherish and applaud. He was very modest, approachable, soft-spoken and a great teacher.”
The event was organised by the KHCAA at the Kerala High Court auditorium.