What started out as a 10 minutes conversation extended to over 40 minutes – just a sign of the calibre and passion of VBR Menon – a successful entrepreneur-turned-changemaker. His passion is evidenced by him taking up a law course, at the age of 57, just to help him contribute to the society in a more meaningful manner.
A mechanical engineer by qualification, Menon had spent close to three decades running his business manufacturing automobile components.
In this freewheeling conversation, Menon tells The Better India why he chose to become a lawyer, his motivation behind filing various Public Interest Litigations (PILs), and his experiences with the judiciary and the administration.
Why law after 30 years of being an entrepreneur?
He answers, “I looked at law as a tool to make a difference and contribute to society in a significant manner. One of the reasons was to try and improve the judicial performance.”
After handing over the business to his son, Menon enrolled at the Seshadripuram Law College, Bengaluru, and was the oldest student in the class. He says, “It did not matter to me in the least. I was there to study, and that is exactly what I did.”
Having enrolled with the Bar in December 2011, Menon took some time to understand the manner in which the courts functioned, and it was in 2015 that he started filing PILs on various issues.
Over 25 PILs in three years
One of the advantages that Menon had is that none of the PILs he filed was personally motivated. “About 90% of the PILs are filed to push a personal agenda. Knowing that my intent is only to establish better systems, I see that the judges and authorities are receptive to the cases I put forth. Over the years, I have managed to establish that credibility,” he says.
“Did you know that a land survey must be conducted once in 30 years? However, the last survey conducted in Tamil Nadu was way back in 1910, over 100 years ago. According to the principle of ‘adverse possession’, if you hold on to a property for more than 30 years, then the land becomes yours. Therefore, it is imperative for State governments to conduct a survey and update their records,” he states.
Once the government has a sense of how much land they have, it will become easy for them to work towards protecting it.
Now, with the advancement in technology, monitoring the land holdings has become easy.
Another pet topic which Menon has been fighting for is water management. He says, “Tamil Nadu has a peculiar problem – during heavy monsoons there is flooding, and during other seasons there is a water shortage. This points to a lacuna in the system. After studying this issue, I found that the problem exists in the water storage systems. As a lawyer not only do I point the court in the direction of an issue but also provide them with viable solutions.”
Kiran Bedi tweets about Menon
In June 2017, Dr Kiran Bedi, the Governor of Puducherry tweeted about the pro-bono work that Menon had been doing. In particular, she tweeted about the PIL filed by Menon, which addressed the high fees that the Deemed Universities were charging.
The PIL was filed and fought pro bono for students of CENTAC seeking Justice is V.B.R.MENON B.E.,MBA[IIMA], L.L.B. Madras High Court?? https://t.co/NKibDd7cOL
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) June 13, 2017
Menon says, “Despite a Supreme Court direction in 2002 asking all Deemed Universities to regulate their fees, this was not happening. So I filed a PIL, and an order was passed in my favour, and now a committee is being constituted to look into the fee structure.”
While Menon has an office set-up, he ensures that he does all the research work himself.
He shares, “I spend close to 15 to 20 days on a petition I present in court. It takes up all my time as of now. I am not doing this to earn a living; this is only a social service that I am providing.”
When asked what motivates him, he says, “The study of the Bhagavad Gita is what keeps me going. Unfortunately, our education system does not teach us that. Fortunately, a friend took me to those classes. Otherwise, I would also have not known anything about it. Making money is not the end – ensure that you give back to society after making life comfortable for your near and dear ones.”
Justice Kaul – a true gem
For any institution to flourish it is important that it is helmed by passionate and freethinkers. Justice S K Kaul who was the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, was one such officer of the court, according to Menon.
Speaking about Justice Kaul, Menon says, “Over the last four years, the interaction and the support that Justice Kaul has extended to me has been wonderful. He was truly interested in making a difference and bringing about a change, free of technicalities.”
“When he knows that you are for a cause, he is there to support you.”
With a vision to change the system, Menon marches on. In conclusion, he says, “I will continue along this path. I have nothing to prove to anyone and I know what I am fighting for is going to help a larger section of the society.”
Miles to go before he sleeps – this perhaps sums up Menon’s journey.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)