Justice Manjula Chellur, who has handled several high-profile cases while at the Kerala and Calcutta High Courts, took over as the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Monday. Governor Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao administered the oath of office to her at the swearing-in ceremony held at Raj Bhavan. Chellur is the second woman to be appointed as the Chief Justice of Bombay HC after Justice Sujata Manohar, who served as the Chief Justice in 1994.
Born on December 5, 1955, Justice Chellur, was the first woman to practise as advocate in Bellary. Chellur has been the legal advisor for several banks, agro industries, the Karnataka Electricity Board and the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). Chellur was appointed as the first woman judge of Karnataka High Court, Bangalore, in February 2000. She became the Acting Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court in November 2011 and was sworn in as the Chief Justice on September 26, 2012. Subsequently, on August 5, 2014, she took charge as the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court.
Chellur has a bachelors degree from Bellary’s Allum Sumangalamma Womens’ College and a law degree from Renukacharya Law College, Bangalore. In 1977, the Supreme Court sponsored her for a fellowship on gender and law at the University of Warwick in England. During her term as the Chief Justice of Kerala High Court and Calcutta High Court, Chellur has dealt with cases such as the Suryanelli rape case against P J Kurien, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, and more recently the Narada sting operation, in which several Trinamool Congress leaders were purportedly shown accepting bribe.
Earlier in June, Chellur had criticised the Calcutta High Court Bar Association when lawyers stayed away from court proceedings for three days citing “hot and humid” weather conditions. She had said a “certain section of lawyers are behaving like school children” and termed the their decision “irritating and painful”. At Bombay High Court, Chellur will succeed Justice Dheerendra Waghela, who retired on August 10 after a short tenure of six months. According to lawyers, a number of critical administrative work has been pending as Waghela’s short stint as Chief Justice did not allow for real assessment of the issues.
“There are two important administrative issues that the new Chief Justice will have to immediately sort out. First, the acquisition of land for the new high court building as per the judicial order, and second, the appointment of judges at the high court,” said Milind Sathe, senior lawyer and President of the Bombay Bar Association. The rising number of litigation and pendency of cases has led to space crunch at the 150-year-old Bombay High Court complex, a heritage structure.
The Bombay High Court handles the most cases in the country after the Allahabad High Court. Currently, there are only 64 judges in the Bombay High Court as opposed to the sanctioned strength of 93. In the past 20 years, the pendency of civil and criminal cases in the high court had increased drastically. In 1997, while the pendency of main matters in the appellate side comprising civil and criminal matters was 37,488 and 8,769 cases respectively, it rose in May 2016 to 72,615 civil cases and 28,521 criminal cases.