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New CJI UU Lalit: From road trips to Advaita philosophy

Aug 28, 2022 11:52 AM IST

New Chief Justice of India, UU Lalit says that speed, maneuvering and control are some key traits that the top court judges require to tackle with huge pendency of cases and laying down the law

Soon after he was designated as a senior counsel in 2004, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit bought an Audi. His father was a reputed criminal lawyer, and he was up and coming himself, and the designation was a sign of that. But there was no doubt in justice UU Lalit’s mind that this was a monetary stretch too far for someone who had spent considerable years of his practice riding a motorcycle.

Justice UU Lalit took oath as the 49th Chief Justice of India (CJI) in New Delhi on Saturday. (File/ANI)

As he told HT in an interview, justice Lalit was then obsessed with speed and took his Audi and his friends to a week-long trip to the Himalayas, navigating hairpin bends and narrow roads with control.

Almost two decades later, as justice Lalit took oath as the 49th Chief Justice of India (CJI), he will have to display much the same control over a country that always seems to be navigating a hairpin bend in its history.

At 10.30 on Saturday morning, justice Lalit was administered the oath by President Draupadi Murmu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, vice-president Jagdeep Dhankar and his colleagues from the Supreme Court, among others, in attendance.

“As a young lawyer, I had bought an Audi Q7. It was a stretch too far but I wanted that car because of the sheer pleasure it gives you at speed. And then I and some of my friends drove from Delhi to the Hills in the Himalayas,” justice Lalit told HT, adding he feels that “speed, maneuvering and control” are some key traits that the top court judges too require to tackle with huge pendency of cases and laying down the law.

Before he had an Audi, the CJI recalled, he took a tour of all the districts of Maharashtra riding his Yezdi motorcycle when he was studying law in Mumbai. “This has been a passion for me...to go on road trips and see different places. I rode Yezdi to courts for several years before I could buy a car,” he added.

Justice Lalit is set to be on the highest chair of judiciary for 74 days. The tenure might be short, but he is set to oversee a host of important matters in the Supreme Court, both as a judge and as a master of roster who is responsible for listing cases and setting up benches.

Some of the crucial cases that the apex court needs to hear in the recent future include the challenge to its controversial July verdict in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) case, Maharashtra political tussle, Pegasus snooping, Hijab row and the freebies matter.

Justice Lalit has already started off on a high note. He has instructed the listing of 25 Constitutional bench cases from Monday after a long hiatus, and also brought around 550 matters marked as “sensitive” back to circulation before courts.

The list of 25 Constitution bench cases includes 2016 demonetisation policy case and the 2019 amendment to bring in a maximum of 10% for the economically weaker sections (EWS). Some cases dealing with minorities are also to occupy the court in coming months with the Constitution benches slated to take up petitions on validity of polygamy, nikah halala and other related Muslim marriage practices, and the grant of minority status to Sikhs in Punjab.

Apart from the five-judge bench cases, scores of three-judge bench cases have also been notified for listing from August 29.

Hours after being sworn-in, justice Lalit on Saturday also held a “full court” — a first in the last five years in the Supreme Court, for a dialogue with the fellow judges on issues affecting the justice delivery mechanism at the top court and the way forward.

Over his years in the Supreme Court, justice Lalit has earned a reputation as the biggest sweet tooth, but importantly, of a calm, studious voice, despite his early proclivity for speed. In the past two decades, much of that has been down to his immersion in Advaita philosophy, a subject that interests him a lot.

“I am very fond of Indian Advaita philosophy. I keep reading about that and find it very calming,” said the CJI, adding his keen interest in Advaita philosophy and the passion to travel have taken him to various parts of the country to visit places of religious and spiritual importance.

During his tenure, justice Lalit will have to muster all his calm as he navigates the role of the CJI in a country that finds itself every day, especially in the Supreme Court, at a crossroads, deciding the very course of the future of India.

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