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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Former Bombay HC judge Hosbet Suresh passes away at 91

He had delivered his last public talk on ‘Seven decades of Human Rights and India’ at the Chief Justice M C Chagla Memorial Lecture on March 6. “He was in demand everywhere where there was a public outcry for justice,” said Justice P B Sawant, retired judge of the Supreme Court.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
Updated: June 13, 2020 4:20:01 am
Justice Hosbet Suresh, Justice Hosbet Suresh dies, former bombay hc judge hosbet suresh passes away, justice hosbet suresh 2002 gujarat riots commission, justice hosbet suresh lecture Seven decades of Human Rights and India anil deshmukh, indian express news Justice Hosbet Suresh had delivered his last public talk on ‘Seven decades of Human Rights and India’ at the Chief Justice M C Chagla Memorial Lecture on March 6. (Express Archive)

“I AM a retired judge, not a tired judge.” That is how Justice Hosbet Suresh usually began his public lectures.

The former judge of the Bombay High Court, among the tallest crusaders for human rights in the country, passed away at his Andheri residence on Thursday night. He was 91.

He had delivered his last public talk on ‘Seven decades of Human Rights and India’ at the Chief Justice M C Chagla Memorial Lecture on March 6. “He was in demand everywhere where there was a public outcry for justice,” said Justice P B Sawant, retired judge of the Supreme Court.

Born on July 20, 1929, Justice Suresh grew up in Karnataka and enrolled as an advocate in Mumbai after completing his LLM from Bombay University. He taught law in the Government Law College. He became a judge in the Bombay city civil and sessions court in 1968 and subsequently of the Bombay High Court in 1986. He retired in 1991.

After his retirement, Justice Suresh served on several inquiry commissions including those into human rights violations in the Cauvery waters dispute in Bangalore (1991), Mumbai riots of 1992-93 following demolition of Babri Masjid among others.

He was also part of commissions that investigated human rights violations, shooting of tribals in Devas, Madhya Pradesh, and inquiry into 2002 Gujarat riots which prompted the report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal.

In 2000, Justice Suresh also headed a three-member commission that inquired into alleged atrocities by the police and armed forces in Manipur that later submitted a report to the Union Home ministry.

Justice Suresh was a part of the Human Rights Law Network, a pan-India pro bono network of lawyers.

A strong advocate of press freedom, he had spoken out against the decision of a sessions court in Mumbai that had disallowed the media from attending the proceedings in the 2005 Sohrabuddin Shaikh alleged fake encounter case in 2017.

“I think prima facie in a country like ours, to prevent reporting is fundamentally wrong. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. People have a right to know what is happening in courtrooms,” he had then told The Indian Express.

He investigated use of force against slum dwellers in Mumbai and submitted a report in 1995 titled ‘Forced evictions — An Indian People’s Tribunal Enquiry into the brutal demolitions of pavement and slum dwellers’ homes’.

“He pioneered and deepened the whole jurisprudence of human rights in this country by introducing the phenomenon of people’s tribunals and public hearings. They gained a lot of legitimacy because of former judges like him and his mentor Justice Krishna Iyer who garnered evidence, came to a conclusion following an orthodox procedure including sending interim reports to opposing parties be it a civic body or the police,” said activist-writer Teesta Setalvad.

Among his key judgments while he was a High Court judge was in the case involving Shiv Sena candidate Subhash Desai and Janata Dal candidate Sharad Rao during an MLA election. He held that canvassing and appealing to a voter on the basis of religion was against the Constitution.

“When he was in office as a judge, we admired him for the stands he took including on women’s issues. One of his judgments directing that maintenance be given by a man to his children not only till they turn 18 when they would be still studying but till their studies are completed is one judgment we keep referring to till date,” said advocate Flavia Agnes who founded Majlis Manch, a legal centre for women’s rights. Justice Hosbet was a trustee at Majlis since over two decades.

Setalvad added that he will be remembered for his ultimate commitment to people. “The spirit imbibed by him will not go away,” she said.

Senior lawyer Gayatri Singh said that Justice Suresh did not stop working for the needy despite his advanced age.

“He was a judge of high standard and always stood up for human rights without bothering about consequences. He was always at the forefront whenever there was injustice in society. It is a great loss to the human rights movement.”

Senior lawyer Mihir Desai said, “He played inspirational role in human rights movement not just in Mumbai or Maharashtra but in the entire country.”

“Suresh Hosbet, a hugely respected voice of conscience & one of India’s foremost legal luminaries, who has left for his heavenly abode. My deepest condolences to his family, friends & the huge following he enjoyed,” tweeted state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

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