Responsibilities of Sheriffs

UTPAL Chatterjee

Rotary Calcutta Mahanagar – Guest Speaker

THE SHERIFF OF CALCUTTA! A new book by that name was launched before a packed house at the Kolkata Press Club. Authored by Dr. Swapan Kumar Ghosh, it takes a good long look at the Sheriffs of Calcutta in, says, the last 270 years. Launched by retired Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, Mr. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen who spoke in detail of how the role and responsibilities of the Sheriff had changed since he had joined the Calcutta High Court. There were other speakers too. Preceding him was Sheriff R.N. Dey, the eldest of the Sheriff present. Succeeding Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen, it was the turn of Yours Truly to speak to a very attentive audience. I recalled how someone had congratulated me when I took over as the Sheriff but with the comment,”…although it is a ceremonial position”. That triggered a lot of emotions within me. I was determined to prove him wrong and, eventually,I did. Apart from overseeing matters to do with the Admiralty, I decided to take the help of the Forest Department and plant saplings on the fringes of the city with vengeance. The work is still on.I also decided to work for the upliftment of the girl child and the upliftment of four slums (including a well-known minority slum). The good news of good work spreads. A lot of hands were extended in support from so many including voluntary organizations. The then Chief Justice, Justice J.Patel, said, “You are the first citizen of Calcutta so you must carry yourself as one. In the protocol, your rank comes right after the Chief Justice who comes right after the Governor. And remember, once a Sheriff, always a Sheriff”. The last comment was to indicate that the good work must go on even if I do not sit in the Sheriff’s chair. I went to take responsibility for overhauling and renovating the entire office of the Sheriff within the premises of the Calcutta High Court so that the 40 odd officers could work in comfort. Later, I was invited to the Raj Bhavan and recognized as an “Outstanding Sheriff since Independence”. That recognition was, indeed, a great honour. I could prove, in my way, that the office and position of the “Sheriff” were NOT “ceremonial”. There was a lot to be said and a lot was. Suddenly, I remembered what former Chief Justice Chittatosh Mukherjee had once observed on the times when the Sheriff was vested with plenty of responsibility including law and order. But that, surely, was during the days of the Raj. Many in the audience found the details most engrossing. There is so much more to be said and that would be done sooner than later. Perhaps, in another book. Photos show me with, among others, Mr. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen and other Honourable Sheriffs. (Utpal Chatterjee, who was  Deputy Editor, The Times of India for ten years, was appointed  Kolkata Sheriff in 2010. Picture courtesy: Rotary Club of Kolkata Mahanagar).

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