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Crusader with a craving for coffee

After 1 pm, in the crowded room no. 10 of Calcutta High Court, Justice Amitava Lala stood up behind the vast desk, his broad face impassive, tall frame leaning forward. For what seemed a long moment, he surveyed the faces before him, till the orderly pushed back the heavy Burma teak chair and made way for the judge, who had just made history by trying to clear the city streets of rallies.

Even before the full import of the landmark verdict had hit home, Justice Lala had climbed down the small flight of wooden stairs, crossed the carpeted floor and disappeared into his chamber. Settling down in his high-backed chair, he stole a glance at the white walls and the white curtains — white, he admits, is his favourite colour, the colour of neutralism — and also at a picture of the goddess under the glass on his desk.

With a steaming cup of coffee — a “weakness”, in his own words — Justice Lala began to revise the text of his judgment, to be released formally soon.

Apart from about 45 minutes, when he returned to the courtroom to hear another case, Justice Lala was busy for nearly two hours reworking the vital no-rally draft, changing words and tightening the text. The idea, after all, was to make the judgment easy to comprehend and implement.

After a hard — and historic — day’s work, Justice Lala stepped out of his chamber, his staff in tow, and disappeared into the judges-only lift, after throwing “sorry, fellows, no interview, not today”, at newspersons desperate for a comment from Calcutta’s latest hero.

Before his elevation to the bench from the bar, Justice Lala enjoyed a successful practice as a company and civil lawyer. Today, at 49, he has built up a formidable reputation.

In the six years that he has been on the high court bench, Justice Lala has succeeded in carving his name on a number of people-friendly judgments. Some that made a mark:

4Four secretaries, two each from the central and state governments, were summoned and ticked off about two months ago for not expediting the pension payable to old and ailing firm freedom-fighters

4The forced introduction, earlier this year, of a new rule that allows a married woman to use her pre-marriage surname and address in any official document, including job applications and examination papers.

Justice Lala’s friends explain his approach to law as a product of social consciousness shaped by the teachings of Ramakrishna. His attachment to the Order comes through the songs he still finds time to pen, as homage to his spiritual guru.

“One of his most admirable qualities is the ability to connect with the common man wherever he goes. He is a very good listener,” said a colleague who frequents Justice Lala’s residence off Gol Park.

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