#JudgmentReserved: Impending retirement and its effect

Bar & Bench March 22 2018

In this edition of Judgment Reserved, we review the period from March 5 to March 16.

Call it the pre-retirement effect or race against time, Supreme Court judges, who are likely to retire early this year, seem more workaholic than others. Their colleagues, who sit with them on the Bench, also feel the extra pressure as they have to share their burden and author judgments, which have been reserved, so as to be delivered, well in time.

The next judge to retire from the Supreme Court is Justice RK Agrawal, whose term ends on May 4, 2018. During the period under review, the Bench presided by him, which includes Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, reserved judgments in eight cases, of which three have been already delivered. All the three have been authored by Justice Sapre.

Similarly, one could expect more judgments from the CJI, and his brother Judges on the bench, in view of the CJI’s impending retirement on October 1.

Roster changes

One would think that Judges, who are about to retire, may hesitate to take fresh cases, since their priority would be to complete hearing in the part-heard cases, and deliver the pending judgments, before their retirement. Ironically, under the Judges’ roster, which was quietly revised by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on March 5,  Justice RK Agrawal got a new subject - Election Matters. This was earlier held by the CJI alone. It remains to be seen whether Justice Agrawal gets to hear any election matters before his retirement.

Indeed, the revised Judges’ roster has a few changes, as compared to the previous one. The revision itself might have been necessitated because of the retirement of Justice Amitava Ray on March 1 and the consequential reduction of the SC benches from 12 to 11. Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman is not shown as a presiding Judge under the revised roster as he was shown earlier.

So what are the changes which have been made in the revised roster?

Justice J Chelameswar no longer has Simple Money and Mortgage, which he had earlier. Now, this subject is the exclusive domain of  Justices Ranjan Gogoi and AK Sikri. 

The subject of consumer protection, which was earlier with Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, is no longer with him. Cases under this category will now be distributed among only Justices Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana, who held it earlier, along with Justice Goel.

In lieu of consumer protection, Justice Goel, however, has got Direct Taxes Matters, Company Law, MRTP, TRAI, SEBI, IDRAI and RBI Matters, which were not with him earlier. Besides, Arbitration Matters and Mercantile Laws, Commercial Transactions including Banking, which were not with him earlier, have also been assigned to him.

Justice Chelameswar effectively retires on May 18, the last working day before the summer vacation (the actual retirement date falls during the summer vacation, on June 22), while Justice Goel retires on July 6, soon after the reopening of the court after summer vacation.

Under the revised roster, Justice NV Ramana has got two new subjects, which were not with him earlier. These are Admiralty and Maritime Laws, and matters relating to Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces.

Justice Arun Mishra has been assigned the extra subject of Land Laws and Agricultural tenancies, in addition to what he has been hearing earlier.

Other highlights

During this period, the Bench presided by the Chief Justice of India, reserved judgments in five cases, including the two PIL cases, namely, Shakti Vahini (which prays for directions to control honour crimes), and Tehseen Poonawalla (which prays for directions for an independent probe into Judge BH Loya’s death in 2014).

Justice Chelameswar’s Bench reserved judgments in four cases, including Lok Prahari, which challenges life-long pensions and perks to ex-Parliamentarians, and their spouses.

The Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan and the Bench of Justices SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao reserved judgments in five cases each. Dr. Pankaj Kumudchandra Phadnis v. Union of India, which has been reserved by the Bobde-Rao Bench, is a plea seeking fresh probe into Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. In this case, Amicus Curiae, Amarendra Sharan has submitted a categorical report stating that no purpose would be served by reopening the case after so many years.

The five-Judge Constitution Bench comprising Justices Ranjan GogoiNV Ramana, R Banumathi, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and S Abdul Nazeer, reserved judgment in Bir Singh v Delhi Jal Board & Ors on March 8. This matter pertains to entitlement of Scheduled Castes and Tribes to reservation benefits when they migrate from one State to another. Two five-Judge Constitution Benches have previously held that they are not entitled to the same. In view of the reference by a two-Judge bench, this matter is likely to go before a seven-Judge bench.

Of the 40 judgments delivered during this period, Justice DY Chandrachud authored nine, while Justice Ashok Bhushan authored six. Justice NV Ramana and Justice Sapre authored four each, while the CJI, Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanwilkar authored three each. Justices Sikri and Sanjay Kishan Kaul authored two each. Justices Kurian Joseph, R Banumathi, Deepak Gupta, Adarsh Kumar Goel, Uday Umesh Lalit, Navin Sinha and S Abdul Nazeer authored one each.

The landmark judgment on Euthanasia, delivered by the five-Judge Constitution bench on March 9, was reserved way back on October 11 last year. The delay of five months, could perhaps be due to the complex ethical, philosophical and legal issues which the Judges had to resolve, before recognising the right to die with dignity as a fundamental right.