Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Bombay High Court collapse

If you are student of the law, and you remember what was taught, I am sure you will know what “Lex Non Potest Peccare” means. Quite simply it means – “The King Can Do No Wrong”. This is an old legal maxim that established the principle in countries that are constitutional monarchies. The sovereign (or the King) is the authority which created the courts. Thus, the courts had no power to compel the sovereign to be bound by the courts, as the courts were created by the sovereign for the protection of his or her subjects.

In India, without being facetious in the least, this principle applies to or is assumed by or is thrust upon or bestowed on all manner of people. Our politicians are a case in point. Across the board, they do no wrong. It is only a few complete dolts, like Suresh Kalmadi, who actually got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Our politicians make all kinds of outrageous statements and face no consequences. They are kings. They can do no wrong.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, has mandated [if you read the first paragraph] and appealed [if you read the last paragraph] that all buildings over the age of 30 have to undergo a structural audit which is to be done by a qualified Structural Engineer registered with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The construction of Bombay High Court Building, as its official website informs me, was completed in 1878, which would make the building 137 years old. Indian culture and civilisation is far older but that is not the point. 137 years is more than 30 years.

Last week, there was, as the nursery rhyme goes - an all fall down. A portion of the ceiling of the second floor collapsed onto the second floor which houses the library. You can read a confusing report here.  I understand that the area where Senior Counsel Veerendra & Virag Tulzapurkar sit is the portion affected. If it were a working day, all Counsel seated there would have been in grave danger.

No one was hurt as this happened at 10.30 pm when all self-respecting lawyers are at home. The morning newspapers carried photographs of the collapse. The following mornings newspapers carried reports, of what I can only imagine, frowning Lordships surveying the collapse. Let us be practical, let us be realists, the building is 137 years old, it can collapse. No one died or was injured, thankfully. The newspapers report that the ceiling of the second floor [which is the floor of the third floor] was weakened by (i) water seepage from a toilet on the third floor and (ii) by a 1000 kg [1 tonne] Burma Teak cupboard on the third floor. I wonder if the toilet on the third floor was part of the original building or merely added on, probably illegally, in the years that followed.   

I am disturbed. I am not disturbed by the collapse, but I am disturbed by the fact that their Lordships have not done anything post collapse, except, I presume, frowned.

I am sure you know that on every occasion there is a fire in a building, or a collapse, or as has happened just a few days ago the very tragic fire in the restaurant at Kurla, our `Hafta’ taking men in Khaki, i.e. the police rush about arresting the owners, members of the managing committee and so on. This is a charade that is regularly played out. In fact, quite often, some of those affected by the fire or collapse will petition a court to get an order directing the `Hafta’ taking men in Khaki to arrest someone.

Why does no one arrest the owner of the Bombay High Court? I am unsure if the owner is the Chief Justice, the Municipal Commissioner, or the Collector of Mumbai, or the Governor or the President of India. The Bombay Bar Association premises are where the collapse originated. Should not the President of the Bombay Bar Association be arrested? Is not the owner responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building? Is the owner not supposed to have the structural audit done? As far as I am aware the High Court building is in South Bombay which is under the domain of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

Should not the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai file charges of default against the owner if the building? If the owner is not the Chief Justice should not the Chief Justice file an action against the owner? Why was no structural audit done? Is that not mandated? Why do newspaper reports suggest that repairs will be done after the structural audit is done.     

This is where the legal maxim seems to apply. “Lex Non Potest Peccare” – “The King Can Do No Wrong”.

I started writing with a maxim. I end with a few clichés.

Justice is blind.

The Law is an Ass.

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