‘Actions, not just words,’ promises CJI Chandrachud

Published on Nov 10, 2022 12:09 AM IST

Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud was sworn-in on Wednesday as the 50th Chief Justice of India (CJI) by President Droupadi Murmu, and he said that his priority will be to serve the common man whose trust on judiciary will be strengthened through action, not just words.

New Delhi: Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi statue at Supreme Court premises in New Delhi, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (PTI Photo)(PTI11_09_2022_000099A) (PTI)
New Delhi: Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi statue at Supreme Court premises in New Delhi, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (PTI Photo)(PTI11_09_2022_000099A) (PTI)
ByUtkarsh Anand and Abraham Thomas, New Delhi

Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud was sworn-in on Wednesday as the 50th Chief Justice of India (CJI) by President Droupadi Murmu, and he said that his priority will be to serve the common man whose trust on judiciary will be strengthened through action, not just words.

“It’s a great opportunity and a great responsibility. I will strive to keep up the faith of people in the judiciary through my action... not only with my words but with my work I will give confidence to people,” said CJI Chandrachud, as he spoke to reporters in the Supreme Court.

“To serve the common man is my priority (as the CJI). I am looking forward to taking care of all the concerns of the citizens, whether it be by bringing technology, or the reforms required in the registry of the Supreme Court or judicial reforms. We will work for the benefit of each citizen,” he added.

Justice Chandrachud, 62, was elevated to the Supreme Court in May 2016, and will have a term of two years as the head of the judiciary. He will retire on November 10, 2024. The new CJI is the son of former CJI YV Chandrachud, and they are be the only father-son duo to serve as CJIs. Justice YV Chandrachud earned the distinction of being the longest-serving CJI as he remained at the helm for over seven years between February 1978 and July 1985.

Arriving at court a little after 11am on Wednesday, CJI Chandrachud paid respects to Mahatma Gandhi by offering garlands at a statue inside the Supreme Court precincts.

Speaking to HT on October 11, justice Chandrachud said he continues to be in awe of the judicial position after six-and-a-half years of his tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court. “It’s a humbling experience to get an opportunity to be a part of the Supreme Court and to head the judiciary,” he said at the time. “Every judge in the country has an immense power to do good and with it comes a duty to serve society with compassion. Our institutions are vital to preserving the rule of law,” justice Chandrachud added then.

Glittering legal career

After obtaining two advanced degrees in law from Harvard University, justice Chandrachud went on to become one of India’s youngest lawyers to be designated senior advocate at the age of 39. Immediately after that, in 1998, he was appointed additional solicitor general of India; and appointed as a judge in 2000 in the Bombay high court, where he served for 13 years. Justice Chandrachud was appointed chief justice of the Allahabad high court in 2013, and was elevated to the top court three years later.

His tenure so far at the Supreme Court has been phenomenal with almost all notable Constitution bench decisions bearing the signature of his pen. The fact that he has been a constant presence on Constitution benches formed by past seven CJIs — beginning with justice TS Thakur, down the line to justice UU Lalit — is testimony of the legal acumen and judicial craftsmanship that finds expression in verdicts rendered by him.

During his tenure in the top court, he has been associated with a string of high-profile and important cases of social and constitutional import, making him known for his progressive views with an impetus on personal liberty, rights, and autonomy.

Some of the crucial decisions delivered by him include the right to privacy judgment, decriminalising homosexuality, striking down adultery as a penal statute, title suit dispute over Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land, entry of women into Sabarimala, right to die with dignity under euthanasia, the right of unwed women for safe abortion, and the verdict granting permanent commission to women short service commission officers at par with their male counterparts in the defence forces.

Notably, justice Chandrachud has at least on two occasions set aside the judicial opinions of his father. While writing the lead verdict in the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in 2017 on the right to privacy, justice Chandrachud overruled the opinion of his father in the controversial ADM Jabalpur case.

The senior justice Chandrachud was among four out of five judges who in 1976 upheld a presidential order to impose Emergency in the country, and also affirmed suspension of the rights of a person to approach a court for enforcement of fundamental rights during the Emergency period. The dissenting opinion was written by justice HR Khanna.

Striking a discordant note in the 2017 privacy judgment, justice Chandrachud overruled his father’s views. “The judgments rendered by all the four judges constituting the majority in ADM Jabalpur are seriously flawed. Life and personal liberty are inalienable to human existence. They constitute rights under natural law,” he held.

Again, in 2018, justice Chandrachud underlined the contrasting story of evolving times and interpretation of the Constitution as he set aside his father’s views in upholding the law of adultery under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code.

Expectations and challenges ahead

With so many judgments under his cap, the expectations of the bar run high on his elevation. However, there are some challenges he needs to immediately address.

One of these relate to controversial cases begging a decision from the top court.

“The cases pertaining to Citizenship (Amendment) Act, scrapping of Article 370 that led to bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir, are some of the cases that need to be taken up and decided on priority. The new CJI has time at his hand. This was something that was started by CJI Lalit but not much could be accomplished,” senior advocate R Balasubramanian said.

Women lawyers are hopeful that the views on gender equality expressed by justice Chandrachud in past decisions will pave the way for a progressive outlook on existing laws. Gender equality issues pertaining to entry of women in Parsi temple of fire, female circumcision practised by the Bohra Muslim community, and review petition challenging the entry of women of all ages into the centuries-old Sabarimala temple in Kerala, are awaiting decision from the top court.

Advocate Shahrukh Alam, who has highlighted before the court several matters involving minority rights and gender discrimination, said: “My hope is and I trust that the principle of equality laid down by justice Chandrachud in past decisions will travel to other issues where this kind of application is needed in testing the arbitrariness of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the CAA, Article 370, and also to administrative reforms.”

Justice Chandhachud’s penchant for technology as a means to rid the courtrooms of the clutter of paper files was at display recently when he announced a paperless court hearing on the power tussle between the Centre and Delhi government over transfer/posting of officers, an issue pending with the Constitution bench.

All eyes will also be on CJI Chandrachud over the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts. There are seven vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges in Supreme Court. The last recommendation sent by the collegium to elevate Bombay high court chief justice Dipankar Dutta as judge of Supreme Court is still pending with the Centre.

Meanwhile, the Union law minister had recently criticised the collegium system of appointing judges as “opaque” and lacking accountability.

Former ASG Maninder Singh said: “Justice Chandrachud is known for his justice-oriented approach. So long as he can display honesty of purpose in sending recommendations on appointment of judges, the collegium will stand the test of time.”

Justice Chandrachud has been a votary for transparency and objectivity. In a case involving disclosure of judges’ assets and collegium decisions under the Right to Information Act decided in November 2019, he held: “Knowledge is a powerful instrument which secures consistency in application and generates the confidence that is essential to the sanctity of the process of judicial appointments.”

A slew of important cases are currently before justice Chandrachud. These include the dispute over the real Shiv Sena, the power tussle between Centre and Delhi government over transfers and postings, the validity of Places of Worship Act, 1991, and the criteria for providing 10% quota for economically weaker section (EWS) in medical postgraduate admissions

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