For the first time in the history of 157 years of the Madras HC that an all-women Full Bench has been constituted to hear a case. Chief Justice of Madras High Court Amreshwar Pratap Sahi took this step ahead of the International Women’s Day when he established the women justices-led bench composing of Justices Pushpa Sathyanarayana, Anita Sumanth & PT Asha to hear the crucial case pertaining to the application of the Employees State Insurance Act of 1948, on aided & unaided educational institutions on Wednesday.
This is the first time an all-women Full Bench (comprising of three judges) has been constituted to answer a reference made to it by a division bench (comprising two judges). The division bench of Chief Justice & Justice Subramonium Prasad set up the historic Full Bench on Monday. The bench heard the case on Wednesday. The bench reportedly heard the case of whether unaided private educational institutions in the State could be treated to be an ‘establishment’ under Section 1(5) of the Employees State Insurance Act of 1948 so that the provisions of the legislation could be made applicable to them.
The All India Private Educational Institutions Association filed a writ petition in 2019 in which it alleged that the Tamil Nadu govt had discriminated between private unaided educational institutions & the Govt-aided educational institutions by issuing a notification for application of the Employees State Insurance Act of 1948 only to the former & not to the latter.
The Madras High Court has been a progressive court, it topped the ranking in having the most number of women judges with 11 women judges as the court inducted Justice PT Asha in June, 2018 when the Chief Justice was Indira Banerjee who has now become a Supreme Court judge. However, the number dipped to nine last year with the retirement of two judges -Justice S Ramathilagam retired while Justice VK Tahilramani, then Chief Justice of Madras HC, resigned from her position – since then out of the total 55 judges in Madras High Court. Most of these nine judges have been promoted to the bench during the tenure of former Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul who is also now a Supreme Court judge.
Women judges have outnumbered men in Full bench during a hearing when the bench comprised of Justice TS Sivagnanam sat along with Justices V Bhavani Subbaroyan & Asha last year. It has also had a division bench led by women judges earlier during the tenure of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee who also led the bench.