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PN Bhagwati, pioneer of PILs and one of India’s most distinguished jurists, dies

The 17th Chief Justice of India, Justice Bhagwati passed away in New Delhi on Thursday evening after a brief illness.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2017 07:21 IST
Ashok Bagriya
Ashok Bagriya
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PN Bhagwati,PILs,Former CJI
Justice Bhagwati passed away in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI Photo)

The father of public interest litigation (PIL) and judicial activism in Indian legal jurisprudence, justice PN Bhagwati is no more.

The 17th Chief Justice of India, Justice Bhagwati passed away in New Delhi on Thursday evening after a brief illness. He was 95, and is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Justice Bhagwati began his career as an advocate in the Bombay high court. He became a judge of the Gujarat high court in 1960 and was subsequently elevated to the Supreme court in 1973.

Justice Bhagwati is considered one of the most distinguished jurists of India since independence. He presided over the Supreme Court as its Chief Justice until his retirement in 1985. Under his leadership, the apex court developed comprehensive human rights jurisprudence. He retired as the Chief Justice in 1985.

During his stint in the Supreme Court, justice Bhagwati was responsible for making a large number of innovations with a view to providing access to justice to the poor and disadvantaged. He enlarged the doctrine of locus standi before the Supreme Court and the high courts for vindicating the individual and collective rights of those denied access to justice on account of poverty or social or economic disability.

Justice Bhagwati developed the strategy of PILs with a view to making human rights meaningful for the large masses of poor and disadvantaged people. He introduced the system of taking cognisance of letters that were written by social workers, journalists, law teachers and civil liberty activists directly to him. This strategy won admiration in many common law jurisdictions.

Justice Bhagwati is widely regarded as the originator of India’s legal aid programme.

But his flawless tenure as judge was marred by a black spot, the controversial judgment in the ADM Jabalpur case (popularly referred to as the habeas corpus case) where he decreed that during Emergency, the fundamental rights of citizens can be suspended.

First Published: Jun 16, 2017 00:15 IST