SC judge Mohan Shantanagoudar dies after prolonged illness at 62
Supreme Court judge Mohan M Shantanagoudar, 62, passed away on Saturday night at a hospital in Gurugram after a prolonged illness, the apex court’s administration said on Sunday.
He was elevated to the Supreme Court in February 2017 from the Kerala high court, where he served as the chief justice. He had a tenure in the apex court till May 5, 2023.
One of his closet colleagues in the Supreme Court, justice Vineet Saran, with whom justice Shantanagoudar shared the Supreme Court bench in his last working days, still remembers the last coffee he had with justice Shantanagoudar. “When I went over for a cup of coffee with him recently, he (justice Shantanagoudar) was as lively as he always had been... although not as strong. I had known him since our days at the Karnataka high court which was his parent high court. We shared an excellent rapport. Even as Supreme Court judges, our houses were right opposite each other in Delhi. And the deal was to meet as often as we could,” recounted justice Saran.
Recalling some fond memories about justice Shantanagoudar, justice Saran told HT that he was enamoured by the late judge’s sense of humour. “Off the bench or on it, justice Santanagoudar would often come up with a great sense of humour. He brought liveliness to the regular court proceedings. We would break into laughter along with the lawyers and the pressure of the proceedings was out. I feel privileged to have sat with him on the bench during his last days,” he said.
Justice Shantanagoudar, who was suffering from lung cancer and was also infected with Covid-19 last year, sat with justice Saran during the last four months. He was not able to speak properly after one side of his vocal cord was paralysed due to the cancer.
“But justice Shanatanagoudar would still want to sit on the bench, hear arguments and will also want to write judgments. I would advise him not to exert so much. But he used to tell me that the court and the judgments kept him going. He said this kept him occupied,” reminisced justice Saran, who was there at Gurugram’s Medanta Hospital when justice Shantanagoudar breathed his last on Saturday at around 10.15pm. Justice Saran said he will remember justice Shantanagoudar as a compassionate man and an excellent, thorough judge.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana also issued a statement at his demise, expressing grief: “I was hoping for his speedy and complete recovery and his return to the bench at the earliest. The news of his passing has come as a rude shock. I have lost a valuable colleague.”
Justice Shantanagoudar, during his short tenure, was associated with many significant judgments.
Through a ruling in February, justice Shantagoudar obligated the banks to ensure safe custody of valuables in their lockers, holding that the banks cannot wash off their hands and claim that they bear no liability towards their customers for the operation of the locker.
Authoring another important judgment, he showed his concerns for private liberty and said that trial courts were duty-bound to inform the accused about their right of default bail when the investigating agencies fail to complete the probe within the time limit mandated by law. In yet another judgment evoking concerns for personal liberty, a justice Shantanagoudar-led bench ruled that courts must not punish an accused if they have not been provided proper legal aid.
When a man filed a habeas corpus petition for his wife who was lodged in a shelter home in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly against her wishes, justice Shantanagoudar recorded that a major woman must “live as per her wish” and ordered for her immediate release.
Coming to the rescue of small farmers, justice Shantagoudar held in a judgment in March 2020 that a farmer is entitled to file a consumer complaint against a seed company for deficiency of service.
Within a year of coming to the top court, he made his presence felt by going against the majority of two senior judges in a bunch of cases relating to land acquisition. While the two senior judges in February 2018 held an old judgment delivered by a bench of same strength of three judges as per incuriam (lacking in care), justice Shantanagoudar dissented with the majority view and said the case should be referred to a larger bench. This case was eventually decided by a larger bench of five judges, as he had opined.