Former acting Chief Justice (CJ) of Gujarat High Court, Anant S Dave, passed away Monday morning at a private hospital in Ahmedabad after prolonged illness. He was 62.
Dave was admitted to Sterling Hosp-ital in May this year “owing to some cancerous problems”, according to a family member. His condition worsened over the past two weeks and he was shifted to Zydus Hospital, where he died of multi-organ failure on Monday around 10.30 am. He is survived by his wife and son based in the United States.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express his condolences, stating “Anguished by the passing away of Justice AS Dave, former Judge as well as acting CJ of the Gujarat HC. He will be remembered for his contributions to the legal field. Condolences to his family and friends. Om Shanti.”
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, law minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and home minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja expressed their condolences on his demise. Rupani said in a message, “In his death, we have lost a sharp legal personality.”
The Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHAA) in a letter addressed to Chief Justice Vikram Nath, requested to hold a “full-court reference in memory of the departed soul… through video-conferencing”, on Tuesday morning and thereafter suspend the proceedings of all courts for the day.
Born on December 4, 1957, in Nadiad, Kheda, Dave was the youngest of four siblings. He did his schooling at Moravillage in Panchmahal and pursued bachelors in commerce from Sarvajanik Commerce College in Godhra. He then moved to Ahmedabad to pursue law at Sahajanand College and graduated with a gold medal in jurisprudence. In December 1984, Dave enrolled as an advocate with the Bar Council of Gujarat.
In November 2018, Dave was appointed as the acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat HC after Justice Akil Kureshi, who was expected to assume the office of Chief Justice on the basis of seniority, was transferred to Bombay High Court. Dave’s tenure continued till October 2019, when Chief Justice Vikram Nath of Allahabad HC took over.
One of his landmark judgments include that of October 2017, where Dave was part of a division bench with Justice GR Udhwani that commuted the death sentence of 11 convicts of the 2002 Sabarmati train burning incident to rigorous life imprisonment, upholding the life-sentence of 20 others. The division bench also directed the Gujarat government to pay compensation to the kin of the deceased kar sevaks on the train, saying it failed to discharge its duty in maintaining law and order.
Hearing a public interest litigation concerning misappropriation of MPLADS funds by former Rajya Sabha MP from Anand, Smriti Irani (now Lok Sabha MP from Amethi and Union minister), the then acting chief justice Dave came down heavily on the implementing agency. When the implementing agency sought for a faster trial as the state government had frozen their bank accounts, Dave retorted, “You should be blacklisted.”
Dave had also presided over several high profile land acquisition matters, including that of GIFT City in Gandhinagar as well as the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train. In the GIFT city litigation where agriculturists moved court in 2014 highlighting non-payment of appropriate compensation, Dave, who was heading the division bench as acting CJ, directed the state government to compensate the owners of the land acquired in 2011, as per March 2019 market value.
However, he dismissed a set of 59 petitions moved by farmers against the land acquisition for the Centre’s Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project. Upholding the land acquisition process adopted by the state as valid, the division bench kept the issue of compensation open, while giving the farmers the liberty to approach the government at the appropriate time.
In 2013, presiding a division bench, Justice Dave came down heavily on the handling of swine flu breakout in Gujarat, saying, there were no qualified doctors at the Community Health Centres and that health and hygiene was “worst in government hospitals.”
In around 20 years he served as an advocate, Justice Dave represented the state government as an assistant government pleader and the Union Government in Gujarat HC as a standing counsel for the central government.
He was also legal advisor for Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) in early days as well as to Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) and BSNL. Dave was also on the panel of Gujarat HC Legal Aid Services.
In October 2004, he was elevated as an additional judge of the Gujarat HC, and confirmed as a permanent judge in September 2006. He was part of the Bench for 15 years and helmed the HC as acting CJ from November 2018 to September 2019. He continued as a judge for three more months, before retirement in December 2019.
According to an HC advocate, who wished to be anonymous, growing up in a tribal district made Dave sensitive to adivasi issues, which he used to take up during his initial days of practice. “His elder brother Vimal Dave (who practised at the Supreme Court) was also concerned with tribal issues…. His another brother Anil Dave practised on the criminal side,” the advocate said. All four siblings were advocates and Justice Dave was elevated as a judge.
As acting CJ, he implemented the long-pending demand of the Bar for renovation of the bar room and allocating chambers to junior advocates. He also initiated a creche at the family court in Ahmedabad. Justice Dave also initiated the Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centres (VWDC) in several district courts, to help victims of sexual offences, child witnesses and victims of various heinous crimes.
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