Outgoing Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has regularly been the headlines, be it facing dissent from within the Supreme Court judiciary, or his landmark judgements upholding constitutional, fundamental and individual rights.
Being the Chief Justice of India is no mean feat. One has to walk the fine line of balancing the law with the greater good, and ensure every judgement speaks for fairness.
On October 2, 2018, CJI Dipak Misra will step down as the 45th Chief Justice of India marking an end to an era that witnessed several landmark verdicts.
Born on October 3, 1953, in Cuttack, Dipak Misra pursued a degree in law from Madhusudhan Law College and cleared the bar on February 14, 1977. He began his practice at the Orissa High Court and the service tribunal and since then, has played a crucial role in the Indian judiciary. He served as a permanent judge in Madhya Pradesh High Court, and later as Chief Justice of Patna High Court. He was appointed the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court in 2010.
In his 13-month tenure at the Supreme Court, Dipak Misra was the only CJI to have faced rebellion from within the Supreme Court judiciary and an impeachment motion by opposition MPs.
A series of progressive verdicts in the last few weeks of his tenure will define what he will be most remembered for - the judge who stood for individual liberty and gender equality. Eight judgments by Justice Dipak Misra that will impact generations to come:
Sabarimala temple opens doors to women
A Hindu pilgrimage center in Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, the Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala clocks about 45–50 million devotees every year. Women between the ages 10 and 50, though, were kept out. On September 28, a five-bench judge comprising Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra, led by CJI Dipak Misra overruled the Kerala High Court’s 27-year-old decision that restricted the entry of women into the temple.
In its official statement, the court said,
“The dualism that persists in religion by glorifying and venerating women as goddesses on one hand and by imposing rigorous sanctions on the other hand in matters of devotion has to be abandoned. Such a dualistic approach and an entrenched mindset results in indignity to women and the degradation of their status.”
Supreme Court proceedings to be live streamed
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” - stated a bench led by CJI Dipak Misra on September 26, delivering a verdict allowing live streaming of court proceedings. Cases of national and constitutional importance will be live streamed by the apex court for all citizens. The move is seen as a step towards transparency, and increasing accountability of the lawyers and judges.
Private companies can’t demand Aadhaar verification
A Supreme Court bench upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, striking down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed the sharing of citizen data with private entities. The ruling means Aadhaar is mandatory only to file IT returns and for PAN allotment, and is voluntary for bank accounts, e-wallets, and school admissions.
The bench, in its 1,448-page verdict, also asked the government to make Aadhaar more secure by “adopting and implementing appropriate technical and organisational security measures to ensure that the agencies, consultants, advisors or other persons appointed or engaged for performing any function of authority under this Act have in place appropriate technical and organisational security measures for the information”.
Husband, not the master; adultery no longer a crime
The Supreme Court last week struck down the 158-year-old Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. The Colonial-era law criminalised adultery, stating that a woman could be punished for adultery, as could a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with another man's wife without his consent. The Supreme Court called the law unconstitutional because it “treats a husband as the master”.
“Any provision of law affecting individual dignity and equality of women invites the wrath of the Constitution. It’s time to say that the husband is not the master of the wife. Legal sovereignty of one sex over other sex is wrong”, read out Chief Justice Dipak Misra from the judgement.
Section 377 struck down
A five-judge SC bench gave a historic, unanimous ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalising homosexuality. The bench, terming Section 377 as 'irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary', diluted it to exclude all kinds of adult consensual sexual behavior.
The ruling stated:
The natural identity of an individual should be treated to be absolutely essential to his being. What nature gives is natural. That is called nature within. Thus, that part of the personality of a person must be respected and not despised or looked down upon.”
Two states and their tryst with Cauvery
In a verdict on the longstanding Cauvery river water dispute, the Supreme Court reduced the allocation of water from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu. CJI Dipak Misra led the special three-judge bench, which announced its final verdict on the 120-year-old dispute over the Cauvery River between the two states on February 16, 2018.
Declaring the Cauvery a “national asset”, the bench upheld the water-sharing arrangements finalised by the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal (CWDT) in 2007. In the verdict CJI Dipak Misra said, “Cauvery, as the Ganga of the South, and the river is not a state's property but a natural resource.” Karnataka was directed to supply 177.25 tmc instead of 192 tmc, from Billigundlu to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu.
Observing that Bengaluru had attained “global status”, the bench laid down a few guidelines for sharing the water on priority basis, and termed drinking water requirement as top priority.
Death sentence to convicts in Nirbhaya gangrape
The brutal Delhi gangrape case in 2012 rocked India, sparking angry protests and putting the focus on sexual crimes against women. The rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student shocked the country and prompted the government to set up a judicial committee to propose stiff laws to deal with rape cases. This spurred faster prosecution and harsher punishment for perpetrators.
Observing that “wanton lust” and “servility to absolutely unchained carnal desire and bestiality” ruled the minds of the four convicts, CJI Dipak Misra awarded them the death sentence in May 2017. In his verdict, he said: “The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable. It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence.”
Midnight hearing and rejection of Yakub Menon's plea
This trial led to one of the most extraordinary hearings in the history of the Supreme Court. It was 3.24 am when Justices Dipak Misra, PC Pant, and Amitava Roy began hearing a petition seeking deferement of Yakub Memon's execution. The verdict was unanimous: the plea was dismissed, and the prime accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts was executed.
Eleven people were convicted for the bombings that targeted the Bombay Stock Exchange, a five-star hotel, the offices of Air India, and crowded bazaars. Memon was the only one whose death sentence was upheld; the other 10 accused were sentenced to life imprisonment.
CJI Dipak Misra’s other notable judgments include:
- Cinema, as an art form, is an inseparable part of the right to free speech and expression (during the brouhaha over the release of Padmavat).
- Upholding the marriage of Hadiya, who converted to Islam, with Shafin Jahan in a presumed 'love-jihad' case.
- Deprecating honour killing and honour crimes, stating that assertion of choice is an integrable facet of liberty and dignity.
- Making it mandatory for cinema theatres to play the National Anthem.
- Upholding the Allahabad High Court judgment that reservation in promotions can be provided only if there is sufficient data and evidence to justify the need.
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