Months after leading a virtual protest of four senior most Supreme Court judges over the functioning of the Supreme Court, Justice J Chelameswar, on his last working day on Friday, shared the dais with Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The Supreme Court judge was at loggerheads with the CJI over the allocation of cases and held a controversial presser earlier this year.
At number two of the five most senior judges of the Supreme Court, Justice Chelameswar is a part of the Supreme Court’s Collegium, the body tasked with appointing judges to the High Court and Supreme Courts. From his contrarian stand in the NJAC ruling, to the Judges’ Press Conference on 12 January 2018, the judge’s seven year tenure saw some of the most polarising moments in the history of Indian judiciary.
The ‘dissenting judge’, who is retiring on June 22, on Friday sat in a bench headed by the CJI along with Justice D Y Chandrachud, before the apex court goes for the long summer vacation.
Maintained the tradition: Justice Chelameswar maintained the tradition of sharing the dais with the CJI. As per the custom of Supreme Court, a retiring judge, on his last day, is given the honour of sitting with the Chief Justice of India. Justice Chelameswar sat with CJI Misra in the majestic Court no 1.
The retiring judge has had an impressive track record. He served as an Additional Judge at the then High Court of Andhra Pradesh. He became the Chief Justice of Guwahati High Court in 2007. He also served as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court. He was elevated as a Judge in the Supreme Court of India in October 2011.
Here are some top judgments by the ‘dissenting’ justice:
1. Invalidation of Section 66A: Justice Chelameswar, in a judgment by him and Justice Rohington Fali Nariman, had opined in favour of freedom of speech in 2015. He, along with Justice Nariman, ruled that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is unconstitutional in its entirety, striking down a “draconian” provision that had led to the arrests of many people for posting content deemed to be “allegedly objectionable” on the Internet. The bench, including both the judges, had turned down a plea to strike down sections 69A and 79 of the Act, which deal with the procedure and safeguards for blocking certain websites and exemption from liability of intermediaries in certain cases, respectively.
2. Privacy law in context of Aadhaar: He also headed a Supreme Court bench which had raised the issue of privacy being a fundamental right in the context of Aadhaar. This only paved the way of a nine-judge bench of the apex court to declare privacy to be a fundamental right. He was also part of a three-judge bench which had said that no Indian can be denied government subsidies and other services just because they do not have Aadhaar.
3. NJAC dissenting verdict: Justice Chelameswar had given a dissenting verdict in the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission) case and said: “proceedings of the collegium were absolutely opaque and inaccessible both to public and history”. He had stressed upon the need for transparency in appointment of judges and also commented “primacy of judiciary” in the appointment of judges was “empirically flawed”. “Transparency is a vital factor in constitutional governance. Transparency is an aspect of rationality. The need for transparency is more in the case of appointment process,” he had written.