Ex-CJI RC Lahoti, who struck down law that went easy on illegal migrants, dies

Updated on Mar 24, 2022 12:42 AM IST
Ex-Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti was born in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna district, where he first started practising as a lawyer. He later got into the state judicial service, quit the job after a year to practise at the high court, from where he was elevated to the high court.
Former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti served as India’s top judge for 17 months. He retired on October 31, 2005 (Twitter/@Areebuddin14)
Former Chief Justice of India RC Lahoti served as India’s top judge for 17 months. He retired on October 31, 2005 (Twitter/@Areebuddin14)
ByHT Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Justice of India Ramesh Chandra Lahoti died on Wednesday evening, a family member said. He was 81.

Former CJI Lahoti was appointed as India’s top judge on June 1, 2004, and led the seven-judge bench that overturned a 1959 apex court ruling which laid down that a ban on the slaughter of the cow’s progeny - old bulls and bullocks - was unconstitutional. The verdict, delivered days before his retirement upheld Gujarat’s 1994 amendment that banned the slaughter of the cow as well as all her progeny, irrespective of its age. He stepped down on October 31, 2005, after serving 17 months at the helm of the judiciary.

A few months earlier, a three-judge bench also led by then CJI RC Lahoti, struck down the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, (IMDT Act) on July 12, 2005, that made it difficult for the authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam.

Under the Assam-specific IMDT Act, the onus of proving one’s nationality or otherwise lay on the complainant (usually the police and their prosecuting agencies), while under the Foreigners Act, which is applicable in the rest of the country, the onus lies on the accused.

The ruling held that the law, applicable only in Assam, was a “barrier” to detecting illegal migrants and was violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, which relate to equality before law and non-discrimination.

Ex-CJI Lahoti, who served on the Supreme Court for seven years starting December 1998, was born in Madhya Pradesh’s Guna district, in 1940. After getting his law degree, he practised law in his home district and was later recruited to the state’s higher judicial service and was appointed as a District and Sessions Judge.

He functioned at this post for a year and later resigned from service to return to the Bar and established a sound legal practice at the MP high court. In May 1988, he was elevated as an additional judge of the high court where he practised and was later made permanent. In 1994, he was transferred to the Delhi high court from where he rose to become a judge of the Supreme Court.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju condoled the death of justice Lahoti.

“Saddened to hear the passing away of Shri RC Lahoti, former Chief Justice of India. He rose from a humble background and reached the highest position of our country’s judiciary because of his ability, knowledge and wisdom,” he tweeted.

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