The judges who decided decades-old Ayodhya matter

As CJI, Justice Gogoi‘s name etched in history

Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who will demit office as the Chief Justice of India in a week‘s time, has etched his name in the annals of history by giving finality to one of the most politically and religiously sensitive cases, the Ayodhya land dispute, which dates back to even before the Supreme Court came into existence in 1950.

The judge, known for his no-nonsense approach, boldness and fearlessness, led a five-judge Constitution bench that conducted a marathon 40-day high voltage hearing during which his patience was tested by some of the country‘s best lawyers who argued the matter.

Justice Gogoi, who was sworn on October 3, 2018 as the 46th Chief Justice of India, is the first person from the Northeast to reach the top position of judiciary and his tenure of a little over 13 months comes to ends on November 17, 2019.

 

He had made it clear that the verdict in the Ayodhya dispute was to delivered before November 17.

Since taking the leadership of Indian judiciary on October 3 last year and also as the judge of the apex before, Justice Gogoi faced several ups and downs but that did not affect his approach to take on issues head on.

While Justice Gogoi is known for taking hard and sometimes surprising decisions, the Ayodhya matter reflected both as he not only ensured that arguments were not allowed to be dragged but wrapped up the hearing two days ahead of the scheduled deadline of October 18, saying ‘enough is enough‘.

True to his style when speculation was that the Ayodhya verdict will be delivered on the last three working days of his tenure as CJI, he sprang a surprise on late Friday evening by deciding to deliver judgement on Saturday when judges keep themselves away from courtroom cases.

Besides hearing the vexatious Ayodhya matter, Justice Gogoi led a bench which monitored and ensured that National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam, his native state, is completed within the set timeframe.

A lot of controversies plagued the NRC but the judge stood his ground and came out in public last Sunday to defend the decision to hold the exercise to identify illegal immigrants.

There was a moment of personal controversy when a women staff member of the apex court levelled allegation of sexual harassment against the CJI in which he was given a clean chit by an in-house three-member inquiry committee headed by Justice S A Bobde.

Two women judges — justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee — were the other members of the Committee.

As a judge he had courted controversy by joining three other senior most judges of apex court in holding a press conference on January 12 2018 in which they virtually revolted against his predecessor Justice Dipak Misra.

He later remarked at a public function that ‘independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy‘s first line of defence’.
A ‘revolution, not reform’ was needed to keep the institution of judiciary serviceable for the common man, Justice Gogoi had said at the same function.

On the administrative side also, Justice Gogoi, as the CJI, took some tough decisions against erring judges and recommended their transfers. In one case a woman high court judge was virtually forced to resign.

Justice Gogoi, as the judge of the apex court, also headed the bench which accepted the apology and decided to close the contempt proceedings against former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju for remarks in his blog.

Born on November 18, 1954, Justice Gogoi, who belongs to Dibrugarh in Assam, enrolled as an advocate in 1978. He practised in the Gauhati High Court on constitutional, taxation and company matters.

He was appointed permanent judge of the Gauhati high court on February 28, 2001.

On September 9, 2010, he was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana high court.

The following year, on February 12, 2011, he was appointed chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court and then a judge of the Supreme Court on April 23, 2012.

CJI- designate Justice Bobde ‘forgets it the moment he gets up from his seat‘

After presiding over marathon and surcharged hearings in cases like Ayodhya where tempers run high among lawyers, Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde says it doesn‘t take much for him to de-stress.

Justice Bobde was recommended as the next the Chief Justice of India just two days after the completion of arguments in the Ayodhya case. And just 10 days before the verdict, President Ram Nath Kovind signed the warrant of his appointment as the CJI on October 29.

When asked how he unwinds, in an interview to PTI earlier this month, he said, “I forget it the moment I get up from the seat. I simply forget it.”

Justice Bobde, who will take oath as the next CJI on November 18, was proactively involved in showering questions to the counsel appearing for both the Hindu and Muslim parties to the dispute.

The judge, who will be the 47th CJI, has heard several key cases and hails from a family of lawyers from Maharashtra.

He was part of a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court which in August 2017 declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right of an individual.

The 63-year-old judge, who will have a tenure of over 17 months as the CJI before he retires on April 23, 2021, was in the news recently for heading a three-member in-house committee which gave a clean chit to CJI Gogoi on a sexual harassment complaint by a former apex court staffer.

Justice Bobde, son of eminent senior advocate Arvind Shriniwas Bobde, has been chosen as the next CJI following the rule of seniority and his name was recommended by Justice Gogoi in a letter to the Centre on October 18.

A nine-judge bench of the apex court headed by the then CJI J S Khehar and which included Justice Bobde had held unanimously that the right to privacy was a constitutionally protected right in India.

Justice Bobde was part of the three-judge bench which in 2015 clarified that no citizen of India without an Aadhaar card can be denied basic services and government services.

Recently, a two-judge bench headed by Justice Bobde directed the Committee of Administrators (CoA) headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai, appointed by it for the purpose of running the BCCI administration, to demit office paving the way for elected members to run the affairs of the cricket board.

Born on April 24, 1956 in Maharashtra‘s Nagpur, Justice Bobde completed Bachelor of Arts and LLB degrees from the Nagpur University.

He was enrolled as an advocate at the Bar Council of Maharashtra in 1978 and practised law at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court with appearances at Bombay before the Principal Seat and before the Supreme Court for over 21 years.

He was designated as senior advocate in 1998.

Justice Bobde was elevated to Bombay high court on March 29, 2000, as Additional Judge and sworn in as Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh high court on October 16, 2012.

He was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on April 12, 2013.

Justice Chandrachud finds place in all important matters in SC

It has been only three-and-half years since his elevation as the judge of the Supreme Court, but Justice D Y Chandrachud has been already a part of several benches which delivered landmarks judgements in high-profile cases like the Ayodhya land dispute.

Be it the matter of adultery or right to privacy, decriminalising section 377 of the IPC or the contentious Sabarimala issue or validity of Aadhaar scheme, Justice Chandrachud had penned path-breaking judgements.

He was in the scheme of things for the setting up of five-judge bench from its inception to hear the Ayodhya dispute as Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has chosen only those judges who by seniority would have become the CJI.

Justice Chandrachud by his seniority would become the CJI from November 9, 2022 to November 10, 2024.

Notwithstanding these facts, Justice Chandrachud, third in seniority to Justice Gogoi and Justice S A Bobde, proactively involved himself during the Ayodhya hearing and put some searching question to the counsel for both Muslim and Hindu sides in the litigation.

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Justice Chandrachud, son of longest serving Chief Justice of India Y V Chnadrachud, wrote the lead judgement for the nine-judge constitution bench in the Justice K S Puttaswamy versus Union of India case in which it was unanimously held that the right to privacy constituted a fundamental right under the Constitution.

He was also part of a five-judge Constitution bench unanimously decriminalised part of the 158-year-old colonial law under Section 377 of the IPC which criminalises consensual unnatural sex between consenting adults, saying it violated the rights to equality.

In another five-judge bench, Justice Chandrachud in a unanimous verdict held Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised adultery, to be unconstitutional on the ground of being arbitrary, archaic and violative of the right to equality and privacy.

The judge, who was elevated to the apex court on May 13, 2016, also concurred with the majority verdict in Indian Young Lawyers Association versus State of Kerala, popularly called the Sabarimala case, in holding that the practice of prohibiting women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple was discriminatory and violative of women‘s fundamental rights.

However, in a strong dissent, Justice Chandrachud differed with other members of the 5-judge Constitution bench which by a majority verdict upheld the constitutional validity of the unique biometric identity number Aadhaar. Justice Chandrachud held Aadhaar to be unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights.

Justice Chandrachud was part of the landmark judgment by a five-judge Constitution bench which recognised ‘living will‘ made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia.

He was also part of the Constitution bench which decided the tussle between the Centre and the Delhi government over the powers to administer the national capital.

He was Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court from October 31, 2013 till his elevation to the Supreme Court.

Justice Chandrachud became Judge of the Bombay high court from March 29, 2000 until his appointment as Chief Justice of the Allahabad high court.

Justice Chandrachud was designated as senior advocate by the Bombay high court in June 1998 and became Additional Solicitor General in the same year till his appointment as a judge.

After completing BA with Honours in Economics from St Stephen‘s College, New Delhi, Justice Chandrachud did his LLB from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University, and obtained LLM degree and a Doctorate in Juridical Sciences (SJD) from Harvard Law School, USA.

He practised law at the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court and was a visiting professor of comparative Constitutional law at the University of Mumbai.

Destiny brought Justice Ashok Bhushan in Ayodhya case bench

Justice Ashok Bhushan was destined to be part of the historic Ayodhya land dispute judgement as his entry into the 5-member Constitution Bench was due to the recusal of the two senior judges of the Supreme Court. 

Justices Bhushan and S A Nazeer made it to the bench after Justices N V Ramana and U U Lalit, both likely to become chief justice of India in future, recused themselves from hearing the politically sensitive matter in the wake of objections raised by some litigants. 

In the original scheme of thing, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had constituted the bench of judges who in the future, on the seniority basis, were likely to assume the office of the CJI. 

Justice S A Bobde, who was part of the bench, will succeed Justice Gogoi who retires this month, while Justice D Y Chandrachud would become CJI for a period from November 9, 2022, to November 10, 2024. 

 

Justice Bhushan had joined the bench dealing with Ayodhya matter months after delivering a relatively important judgment on September 27, 2018, in which the three-member bench refused to refer to five-judge Constitution Bench the 1994 Ismail Faruqui verdict. 

The 1994 judgment had held that mosque was not integral to offering prayers in Islam. 

The issue of referring the judgment had arisen when the bench had taken up the Ayodhya matter and Muslim parties demanded that the apex court first refer the Ismail Faruqui verdict to the five-judge bench. 

In this matter, Justice Nazeer wrote a dissenting verdict. 

Writing for himself and the then CJI Dipak Misra, Justice Bhushan had declined the request of Muslim parties in the Ayodhya case that the 1994 observation that “mosque is not essential part of practice of Islam” be sent to a larger bench as it would have a bearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid land dispute. 

Besides the Ayodhya matter, Justice Bhushan has penned several key verdicts like upholding the law on Aadhaar, its linking with PAN and judicial assertion that the CJI is the master of roster. 

Later, he was part of the bench with Justice A K Sikri (since retired) which rejected the petitions challenging the Centre‘s ambitious project to link Aadhaar with the PAN cards to catch economic offenders. 

The power tussle between the Centre and the Delhi government was conclusively settled by a bench to which Justice Bhushan was a part. It gave some powers to the centre and some to the city government. 

Justice Bhushan had to deal with the key issue with regard to the administrative power of the CJI in the backdrop of the presser by four senior apex court judges led by then Justice J Chelameswar against the functioning of the then CJI Dipak Misra. Justice Gogoi was also part of that press conference. 

The Chief Justice of India is the master of the roster, and the spokesperson and leader of the judiciary, Justice Bhushan had held while dismissing the petition filed by former law minister Shanti Bhushan. 

The CJI is the first among equals and has the exclusive duty of allocating cases to different benches of the Supreme Court, the verdict had said. 

Justice Bhushan, born in 1956 at Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh, started practice as lawyer in 1979 and became a permanent judge of the Allahabad high court in 2001. 

He was elevated as judge of the Supreme Court on May 13, 2016. 

Justice Nazeer most sought judge in matters of religion in SC

Justice S Abdul Nazeer, the lone Muslim judge in the 5-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, which on Saturday delivered a historic verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute case, has been one of the most sought after judges in matters involving religion. 

Justice Nazeer was also the part of the five-judge bench in the ‘instant triple talaq‘ matter but had delivered a minority verdict along with then Chief Justice of India J S Khehar. 

By the 3:2 verdict, the apex court had held issue of 1,400 year old practice of ‘instant triple talaq‘ among Muslims as illegal and unconstitutional. 

However, in the Ayodhya verdict, the judge, who was elevated to the apex court from the Karnataka high court, did not agree with the arguments of the Muslim parties and became a part of the unanimous verdict that possession of the disputed 2.77 acre land rights will be handed over to the deity Ram Lalla. 

Before becoming a part of the Constitution Bench in the Ayodhya case, Justice Nazeer was part of a three-judge bench, including the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Ashok Bhushan, which by 2:1 majority had declined to set up a larger bench for a relook of its 1994 verdict which had held that a “mosque is not an essential part of the practice of Islam”. 

The September 27, 2018, verdict by the three-judge bench had paved the way for the apex court to hear the Ayodhya land dispute case in which Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi constituted a five-judge bench to adjudicate the issue. 

Besides these cases, Justice Nazeer was also a part of the Supreme Court‘s nine-judge bench which had declared ‘right to privacy‘ as a fundamental right in the August 2017 verdict. 

Justice Nazeer, 61, who was enrolled as an advocate in 1983 and had practiced in the Karnataka high court, was appointed as an additional judge of the Karnataka high court on May 12, 2003, and was made a permanent judge there in September 2004. 

He was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on February 17, 2017.

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