Justice Bobde, the man who delivered landmark judgements

The President Ram Nath Kovind has appointed senior most judge Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde as the next Chief Justice of India. He will succeed the present CJI Ranjan Gogoi, who retires on November 17. Justice Bobde will take oath as the 47th Chief Justice of India on November 18. As CJI, he will have a term of one year and five months till April 23, 2021.

Born on 24 April 1956 at Nagpur, Maharashtra, Bobde hails from a family of illustrious lawyers. He is the grandson of a lawyer and son of Arvind Bobde, a former advocate-general of Maharashtra and a staunch Congressman. His elder brother Vinod Bobde who passed away in 2016, was also a Supreme Court lawyer. Late Vinod Bobde was the lawyer for Sasikala and Tamil Nadu government for many years.

Justice Bobde enrolled with the Bar Council of Maharashtra in 1978 after obtaining his LLB degree from Nagpur University. He practiced for over 21 years at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. He was designated as a Senior Advocate in 1998 and was subsequently elevated as an Additional Judge of the Bombay High Court in March, 2000. In April, 2013, he was elevated as a Judge of Supreme Court.

Also read: Justice Bobde appointed next CJI, will take oath on Nov 18

Presently, he is the second-senior most judge of the country and is also serving as the Chancellor of Maharashtra National Law University, both at Mumbai and Nagpur campuses.

He has been on several important benches, including the recent Ayodhya title dispute. Considered as a trouble shooter, he, along with Justices Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra, conducted the inquiry into allegation of sexual harassment against CJI Gogoi. The committee gave a clean chit to Justice Gogoi. Any contrary finding would have resulted in the prospect of Justice Gogoi facing impeachment proceedings.

During the six-year tenure as a Supreme Court judge, Bobde has presided  over several important Benches and given several landmark judgments. Justice Bobde was a part of the 9-judge bench that gave the landmark ruling in the Aadhar case recognising privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Earlier he was a part of the three-judge bench along with Justices J Chelameswar and C Nagappan that held that no Indian citizen should be deprived of basic services and government subsidies on the basis of the fact that he does not hold an Aadhaar card.

Bobde was also a part of the bench that permitted a 26-year-old woman to abort a 25-weeks-old fetus after it was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that causes an absence of major portion of the skull and scalp.

Also read: CJI Gogoi recommends Justice SA Bobde as his successor

Heading a Bench Justice Bobde declined to interfere with a Karnataka High Court judgment upholding the State imposing a ban on Kannada book, Basava Vachana Deepthi, in 1998. Justice Bobde observed that hypersensitivity in religious matters has to be discouraged. It was argued that since India is a multi-plural faith society, the responsibility is on the state to prevent writings that have the potential to outrage religious feelings.

Pointing out that several false charges are made in dowry harassment cases, Justice Bobde has cautioned the courts from proceeding with the trial when police had roped in all the relatives of husband as accused in dowry harassment cases.

He said the Court’s should be careful in proceeding against the distant relatives in crimes pertaining to matrimonial disputes and dowry deaths. The court held that the relatives of the husband should not be roped in on the basis of omnibus allegations unless specific instances of their involvement in the crime are made out.

Justice Bobde has  held that no further probe is needed into the assassination of the Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948.

The petitioner Dr. Pankaj Kumarchandra Phadnis had argued that the pistol by which Godse shot Mahatma had a seven-bullet chamber. Three shots were fired and the police recovered the remaining four unspent bullets. There was no way the fourth shot could have come from this pistol. It had to be from the gun of a second assassin, no trace of whom survives in any record.

Rejecting this submission, the court had held that the bullets which pierced Mahatma Gandhi’s body, the pistol from which it was fired, the assailant who fired the said bullets, the conspiracy which led to the assassination and the ideology which led to the said assassination have all been duly identified. No substantive material has come to light to throw any doubt requiring either a re-investigation of the Mahatma Gandhi murder case or, to constitute a fresh fact finding commission with respect to the same.

When four senior judges Justices J chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph held a press conference in January 2018 accusing then CJI Dipak Misra in allotting cases, Justice Bobde brokered peace to prevent rift in judiciary.

Bobde was among the first people to call upon Justice Chelameswar after the press conference, and he was also reportedly in touch with Misra. Bobde offered to devise a path of reconciliation and envisaged a new method of distribution of cases across the benches in the Supreme Court, which became a key to an amicable solution.

Challenges before Justice Bobde

Soon after he takes charge as the next CJI Bobde will face the challenge of the apex court having to decide the validity of Article 370 removing special status to Jammu and Kashmir. He will have to streamline the allotment of cases to senior and junior judges to prevent any repeat of the scenario witnessed in January 2018.He should also address the issue of filling up vacancies in High Courts as well as in subordinate judiciary.

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