Chennai : Farewells are usually occasions for camaraderie and taking a memorable trip down the past. However, on Wednesday the farewell for outgoing Madras High Court Chief Justice R K Agrawal, who has been elevated to the Supreme Court, turned unusually “heavy” with the judge sharing his anguish over the conduct of a colleague in the judiciary and a section of the Bar.

Justice Agrawal, who was “pained” by the recent accusations of caste discrimination hurled at him by a sitting judge of the High Court (a Dalit) and lawyers’ boycott, indicated that he was not alone to feel victimised. Members of the bar were shocked when he said that many of his judicial colleagues had in private told him that they would prefer to seek voluntary transfer to some other High Court.

“Even judges from the other High Courts are hesitant to come here,” he said while making it clear that even as Supreme Court judge, his earnest endeavour would always be to ensure that “this court (Madras) regains all the lost glory and marches ahead achieving even greater heights.”

Although the outgoing Chief Justice did not name anyone, he left none in doubt that the reference was to controversial judge Justice Karnan, who had shot off a petition to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes accusing Justice Agrawal of being prejudiced towards him. Justice Karnan was recently in the news when he entered a court hall during a boycott by lawyers and told a presiding bench of judges that he supported the lawyers’ cause and wanted to file an affidavit on the same.

In his farewell speech, Justice Agrawal said: “In my entire career of more than 37 years both in the Bar and at the Bench, nobody, be it my friends or foes, had never raised their voice while talking to me or while addressing me during court proceedings. But here on one fateful day, a respected colleague of mine (Justice Karnan) had hurled invectives at me and cast aspersions at the affairs of this court. I need not tell you that the events of this court are keenly followed throughout the country. I worry not about the personal comments made at me, but I do get pained when I hear that innuendos are being targeted at the Madras High Court and it is becoming the subject of public ridicule.”

He pointed out that it would take years to build a reputation but only a moment to destroy it. “We have to be very careful in our conduct. The danger is from within, and not from outside. We have to be very careful in our acts,”‘’ he said adding that he was sorry to refer to the recent incidents.

“You have to remember that the respect, status and reputation you get in the society are all because of this great institution. If this court faces loss of public confidence, then take it from me, you will be the worst affected in the society,” he cautioned

While appreciating women lawyers for treating him like a brother and tying rakhi on Rakshabandhan, he said, “But, I was deeply pained to see some of my rakhi sisters being in the forefront of the unfortunate events (court boycott opposing selection of judges). I request all of you to think twice before taking such a course of action,” he appealed.

“I had started treating myself as part of this court and took this court as my court. Suddenly, one fine morning, I learnt that a section of the Bar treats me as an outsider. I was deeply pained. I introspected about the possible reasons, but am yet to come up with any,” he said.Incidentally, Justice Karnan did not attend the farewell.

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