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India’s next chief justice: Dipak Misra takes over on Monday, inherits slew of challenges

Judicial appointments, key court cases to fall under Supreme Court’s next chief judge

india Updated: Aug 27, 2017 15:36 IST
Bhadra Sinha 
Bhadra Sinha 
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
dipak misra,chief justice,indian judiciary
Dipak Misra takes over as chief justice from JS Khehar.(HT file photo)

Dipak Misra is set to be sworn in on Monday as India’s 45th chief justice, a position that will give him the chance to take on several challenges for the country in general, and the judiciary in particular.

Misra, who takes over from JS Khehar, began his career on February 14, 1977 when he was enrolled as an advocate. Misra was appointed as an additional judge of the Orissa High Court in 1996, and transferred to Madhya Pradesh a year later. In 2009, he became the chief justice of the Patna High Court before moving to head Delhi HC in 2010.

On October 10, 2011, Misra was appointed to the Supreme Court.

With a tenure of nearly 14 months, Justice Misra will have an unenviable task of filling up vacancies in High Courts and the Supreme Court. HCs in India are working with 56% strength, and the shortfall in SC will widen to 6 when PC Pant retires on Tuesday to leave only 25 judges in India’s apex court.

The contentious MOP (Memorandum of Procedure) continues to remain an unresolved issue between the government and the SC collegiums, which has rejected the idea of including a security clearance clause that would allow the executive to veto superior court appointments in case of a negative remark against a proposed candidate.

Soft-spoken but a man with steely resolve, Misra has issued far-reaching orders, some of which have drawn criticism. His order making national anthem mandatory in movie halls ignited a debate whether an increasingly aggressive brand of nationalist fervour was stifling civil liberties. His verdict in a defamation case was similarly termed as regressive by advocates of free-speech.

But, the astuteness with which he got the NDA government to withdraw President’s rule in Uttarakhand speaks to his wisdom as a judge.

Misra’s stature grew when he agreed to give a early morning hearing when Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon’s lawyers rushed to the court on the night of July 29, making a last ditch effort to delay his next day’s hanging.

The bench presided by him refused mercy to Memon, who was executed on July 30 morning. He also headed the three-judge bench that handed down death sentences to the convicts in the December 16 gangrape-cum-murder case in which a 23-year-old girl was brutally assaulted and killed.

Besides the challenge to appoint judges, Misra has work cut out for him on the judicial side. He will be hearing contentious cases such as the Babri-Masjid dispute, Cauvery water dispute, women’s right to enter the Sabrimala temple in Kerala, and the legal challenge to Article 35A that gives special status Kashmir.

As chairman of National Legal Services Authority, he has introduced several measures to provide legal aid to poor litigants. He is the mastermind behind the idea of introducing Legal Assistance Establishments in states to streamline the NALSA’s activities.

In court Justice Misra is often seen quoting poetry and verse. He often engages himself in conversation with senior advocates on literary works.

There have been times when he has stump well-known jurists with his knowledge on classics and literature, and his passion is reflected in his judgements.

First Published: Aug 27, 2017 15:36 IST