Updated: April 26, 2021 8:20:35 am
“Robust, committed to his roots, forthright.” That is how Supreme Court judges and senior members of the Bar remember Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar, who passed away Sunday morning at a private hospital in Gurugram. He was 62.
According to sources close to the family, he was undergoing treatment for certain medical complications for some time.
Hailing from Dharwad, Karnataka, Justice Shantanagoudar was appointed Additional Judge of the Karnataka High Court in May 2003. He went on to be Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court before being elevated to the Supreme Court in February 17, 2017, where he had an eventful tenure.
“He was a forthright man who had the courage to stand by his conviction and to disagree,” said a senior judge.
This was most visible in February 2018 judgement in a matter related to the Indore Development Authority, which dealt with the interpretation of certain provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency under the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
Justice Shantanagoudar agreed with the two other judges in the bench – Justices Arun Mishra and A K Goel – that the acquisition will not lapse if the unclaimed part of the compensation due to the landowners is deposited in the government treasury instead of court.
This effectively overruled an earlier 2014 decision by another three-judge bench in a case related to the Pune Municipal Corporation that the acquisition would lapse if the unclaimed amount is not deposited in court.
But while Justices Mishra and Goel held that the 2014 decision need not be reviewed by a larger bench as it was “per incurium” (“through lack of care” because the judges were ill-informed about the applicable law), Justice Shantanagoudar disagreed and opined that a larger bench should reconsider it.
Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said, “The news of his passing has come as a rude shock. I have lost a valued colleague. In the last four years of my association with him in the Supreme Court, I have benefitted immensely from his amazing legal acumen.”
CJI Ramana and Justice Shantanagoudar shared the bench on many occasions and decided some important cases, including holding that a child born out of wedlock between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman is a legitimate one and is entitled to share in his father’s property.
The two judges were also part of a three-judge bench that upheld the conviction and life sentence of P Rajagopal, founder of the Saravana Bhavan group of hotels, for murdering a man whose wife he was besotted with and wanted to marry.
Justice Shantanagoudar was also part of the nine-judge bench which unanimously upheld the 3:2 majority decision of a five-judge bench in the Sabarimala matter to refer to a larger bench, certain questions of law arising out of petitions seeking review of its September 2018 judgement lifting age restrictions on entry of women to the hill shrine.
According to a judge, Justice Shantanagoudar “had seen rural life and was very aware of the problems of common people. He never forgot his roots and was very committed to his roots”. He added that the late judge was “extraordinarily friendly and such a solid source of support for any colleague if they needed something” and was “always a source of wit and laughter on the lunch table”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta recalled Justice Shantanagoudar as a “fine human being” and “extraordinary judge” and that “arguing before him has always been an enriching experience”.
“He would just wear a smile on his lips when any lawyer would make an unpalatable or unsustainable argument (which all of us many times do). This was the only but clear signal that you must come to the next submission,” he said.
“He was a strong believer. A Lord Shiva devotee,” the SG said, adding that it was from Justice Shantanagoudar that he came to know that the Lingayat community to which he belonged carried a Shiva Lingam in a small silver casket tied to a white thread around the body.
“Few could be more gentlemanly than him. The atmosphere in his court — howsoever contentious the issue, howsoever fractious the rival contentions and howsoever combative the counsel — was always serene, harmonious, tinged with humour, self-effacing, non-pompous and result oriented, prodding and prompting all to a lasting and efficacious solution,” Senior Advocate A M Singhvi recalled, and said Justice Shantanagoudar had the “ability to defuse surcharged moments” and displayed genuine respect and affection towards the Bar.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi said Justice Shantanagoudar was “a perfect Judge with a cool temperament and courteous behaviour. A sharp intellect with a desire to work and do justice. His heart was in the right place”.
Supreme Court Bar Association president Senior Advocate Vikas Singh said that the late judge was a “brilliant” and “soft spoken but firm”, and that “his behaviour with the bar was exemplary”.
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