‘Regret that I couldn't demolish feudal culture’: Madras HC CJ writes farewell note

In a move that has been termed as opaque, the Collegium recommended the transfer of Sanjib Banerjee to the Meghalaya High Court.
Chief Justice Sanjib Bannerjee speaking into a mic
Chief Justice Sanjib Bannerjee speaking into a mic
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Outgoing Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjib Bannerjee penned a farewell message on Wednesday, November 17, expressing gratitude for the 11 months he spent as CJ of the Madras High Court. Thanking his staff, he wrote, “I am sorry for the long hours that you had to keep for me. I appreciate your fullest cooperation. My regret is that I could not completely demolish the feudal culture in which you serve.”

He also thanked his colleagues at the bench, apologising for being “unable to last the distance and for not saying goodbye in person”. Addressing those who he may have offended by his action, the CJ Bannerjee wrote, “please know that they were never personal...I perceived those actions as necessary for the institution.” The message also addressed members of the Madras Bar Association and the registry apart from his staff and colleagues.

“To the members of the bar, you are among the best in the country and have suffered a talkative and sometimes grumpy old judge with more patience, respect and understanding than I may have deserved. My sincere gratitude to you for all your kind words,” it read. Addressing the registry, “your efficiency made administration easy. I also acknowledge the sincerity that you have shown to improve and better the systems and processes. Please continue your endeavour to bring about transparency and accountability.”

As parting words, he added that he “will forever remain indebted to everyone in this beautiful and glorious state we had the privilege of calling our own for the last 11 months and for the kindness and warmth with which we were greeted during the entire tenure.”

The transfer of CJ Bannerjee has stirred a controversy as it has been perceived as a ‘punitive measure’. The Collegium recommended that CJ Banerjee be transferred to the Meghalaya High Court, which is smaller than the Madras High Court and that Justice TS Sivagnanam be transferred to the Calcutta High Court. Justice TS Sivagnanam was sworn in as a judge of the Calcutta High Court on October 25.

Following this, the Madras Bar Association convened an emergency general body meeting on Sunday, November 14, and passed a resolution by majority vote, requesting the Collegium to reconsider the transfer of the two judges.

“The transfers are perceived to be in violation of Memorandum of Procedure (MOP) for transfer. Such transfers are perceived to be punitive and do not augur well for the independence of the judiciary,” the association said, adding that it was deeply concerned with the opaqueness surrounding the transfers. The Madras Bar Association also requested the Union Government, which implements the transfers, to decline the Collegium’s transfer recommendations.

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