Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, who will demit office on Monday, had a short but eventful tenure as the country’s top judge in which he presided over two constitutional benches that pronounced landmark judgments on triple talaq and the right to privacy. Chief Justice Khehar, who took over on January 4, had a tenure of just 237 days, of which he presided over court number one for 124 days as the country’s top court was closed for 113 days on account of weekends, festival holidays and summer break.
Though his working tenure seemed too short for anything substantial in terms of judicial pronouncements, they were eventful with benches headed by Justice Khehar setting aside instant triple talaq as unconstitutional and holding that right to privacy was a fundamental right. Prior to becoming the Chief Justice, he presided over the constitution benches that held that Constitution’s 99th amendment, paving way for the National Judicial Appointment Commission for the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, was unconstitutional.
Described as a strong judge by his predecessor Tirath Singh Thakur, Justice Khehar had pronounced restoration of then Arunachal Chief Minister Nabam Tuki’s government as a five judge bench headed by him unanimously quashed then Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the assembly session. He was also part of the bench headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishan (since retired) that had ordered the Sahara group to return investors money that its two companies had raised from the market in 2008 and 2009. It was the same bench that had sent group chief Subrata Roy and two other Sahara directors to jail for not complying with the court’s orders.
A no-nonsense Judge, the bench headed by him imposed a cost of Rs 25 lakh on an NGO for filing frivolous PILs and casting aspersions on the judges of the Rajasthan High Court. On Thursday, a day before his last working day in the court, he had imposed a cost of Rs 10 lakh each on two people who had moved the court to seek that the procedure laid down in the Constitution be followed in appointment of Justice Dipak Misra as his successor, describing it as “publicity stunt litigation”.
Born in Kenya where he had his primary education, Justice Khehar credits his success in his life to his father who had taught him to pursue life with perseverance, hard work and the ability to accept failures. His successor, Justice Dipak Misra says that he gets freedom in working hard while some call him a “workaholic”. Chief Justice Khehar was also perceived to be on comfortable terms with the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a few months ago said he wished that Chief Justice Khehar had a longer tenure than just eight months as he enjoyed working with him.
Chief Justice-designate Justice Misra, who will be sworn in as 45th Chief Justice of India on Monday morning, has many judgments that took the of law forward. He was the author of the Constitution bench judgment that had ruled that criminal defamation was not unconstitutional and he passed an order making it mandatory the playing of the national anthem in the cinema halls. He along with Justice P.C. Pant and Justice Amitava Roy will be remembered for sitting through the night to hear last minute appeal by 1993 Bombay bomb blasts accused Yaqub Memon against his death sentence after his plea against issuance of death warrant was rejected earlier in the day.
A gender-sensitive judge said no to marriage as a compromise between a rape accused and the victim and had pronounced the judgment upholding the death sentence in Nirbhaya gang rape case. He also presided over the bench that struck down the provision of the Cine Costume and Make-up Artists Association prohibiting women make-up artists and hairdressers from becoming its members.