New Delhi: Outgoing Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra held court with his successor Ranjan Gogoi for the last time on Monday. Earlier in the day, while stopping a lawyer who broke into a song to wish him long life, said that he was “responding from the heart” but will speak from his mind in the evening.
However, later at the farewell function, the CJI said he has decided not to speak from the mind and would keep talking from the heart.
During his 13-month tenure as the Chief Justice and his eight year stint in the top court, Dipak Misra either penned or was part of a number of some crucial judgements including the upholding of constitutional validity of Aadhaar while putting curbs on its usage, decriminalising consensual gay sex and adultery, allowing entry of women irrespective of their age into the Sabarimala temple, refusal to order release of five Left-wing activists and the verdict in the Ayodhya dispute-related case.
CJI Misra’s tenure as the Chief Justice was no less than a roller coaster, especially the year 2018 which began with the unprecedented press conference held by four senior-most judges of the top court, including his successor Justice Ranjan Gogoi, where they expressed dissatisfaction over listing of cases, particularly those concerning leaders of the ruling government.
This was the first-of-its-kind development in the history of the Indian judiciary where CJI’s own brother Judges raised questions on his style of functioning and some of the prominent faces from the bar too joining the chorus.
Later, the opposition party also initiated an impeachment motion against him, the first such motion against a Chief Justice of India. The impeachment motion, moved by the opposition on five counts of ‘misbehaviour’ was, however, rejected on grounds that it lacked ‘substantial merit’ and was based on ‘assumption rather than factual proof.
CJI’s Misra name also featured in the Medical Council of India (MCI) scam when the Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences of Lucknow, one of the 46 colleges barred by the government from admitting students, challenged the government’s decision in the Supreme Court.
However, CJI Misra weathered the storms with his usual calm and tact and maintained a stoic silence all through. “In my whole career as a judge, I never dissociated myself from the lady of equity,” the outgoing CJI said today.
“History can be sometimes kind, and unkind. I don’t judge people by their history but by their activities, perspective,” he asserted.
Dipak Misra will also be remembered as a judge who chose to break the society’s stigma by advancing individual liberty and gender equality. All through his tenure, CJI Misra was unequivocal in upholding the liberty and rights of the people, particularly women.
During his stint in the top court, CJI Misra headed various benches of different combinations or was a part of them and delivered several crucial verdicts. As Dipak Misra retires as the CJI today, here is a look at some of the memorable judgements passed in his presence:
Upholding Aadhaar’s Validity With Riders
On September 26, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by CJI Misra, upheld the constitutional validity while observing that the unique biometric ID neither tends to create a “surveillance state” nor it infringed the Right to Privacy.
The bench held that while Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of IT returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it would not be mandatory for admissions to schools, mobile phone connections and opening bank accounts.
On September 6, a five-judge bench headed by CJI Misra, struck down part of a 158-year-old colonial-era law which criminalised gay sex among consenting adults, observing that it violated the constitutional right to equality and dignity.
The SC bench decriminalised part of the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises consensual gay sex, saying it was irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.
Decriminalising Adultery With Few Caveats
On September 27, a five-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra declared that adultery is not a crime as it struck down a 158-year-old anti-adultery law, saying it was unconstitutional, dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”.
The bench struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
The apex court observed that mere adultery cannot be a crime unless it attracts the scope of IPC’s Section 306 (Abetment of Suicide). The court also made it clear that adultery can be a ground for divorce.
Allowing Women of All Ages in Sabarimala Temple
On September 28, a five-judge SC bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra removed all restrictions imposed by Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple with regard to entry of women aged 10 to 50. It held that the centuries-old Hindu religious practice is illegal and unconstitutional.
The court in the majority verdict said the repression of women under the garb of “physiological factors” cannot be legitimised and patriarchy in religion cannot “trump over” devotion.
Live Streaming of Court Proceedings
In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court on September 26 allowed the live streaming of its proceedings in the cases that hold Constitutional importance. Rendering the judgement, the bench, comprising of CJI Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud allowed the live-streaming saying the move will bring “transparency and accountability” to the judicial process.
The apex court said a pilot project may be initially taken up for about three months by live-streaming only cases of national and Constitutional importance from Court Number 1 presided over by the Chief Justice. However, certain sensitive cases like matrimonial or sexual assault cases, matters where children and juveniles are involved will be excluded.
Recognising ‘Living Will’ by Terminally-ill Patients For Passive Euthanasia
On March 9, 2018, a five-judge constitution bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra said passive euthanasia and advance living will are “permissible”. The top court also laid down guidelines as to who would execute the will and how the nod for passive euthanasia would be granted by the medical board.
The CJI, while reading out the judgment, said that though there were four separate opinions of the bench but all the judges were unanimous that the ‘living will’ should be permitted since a person cannot be allowed to continue suffering in a comatose state when he or she doesn’t wish to live.
Ayodhya Land Dispute Case
A three-judge bench headed by CJI Misra declined to refer to a larger bench its 1994 verdict for a review over the observation that “mosque is not an essential part of the practice of Islam”.
With this decision, the hearing of the long-pending Ayodhya title suit will begin from October 29. SC said that the earlier observation was made in the limited context of “land acquisition” during the hearing of the Ayodhya case and will not have any bearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute.
Other Key Verdicts
Justice Misra, who was elevated to the apex court in October, 2011, also upheld two death sentences of 1993 Mumbai blasts’ sole death convict Yakub Memon and the capital punishment to the convicts in the sensational December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape-and-murder case.
In Memon’s case, the bench headed by Justice Misra brought the curtains down on last ditch attempts by Memon’s lawyers to stop the execution which was carried out at 7 am at Nagpur Central Jail. Memon’s lawyers had petitioned the then CJI H L Dattu after the apex court had upheld his death warrant and he constituted the same three-judge bench to hear the case during the pre-dawn hearing.
Observing that the right to free speech cannot mean that a citizen can defame anybody, Justice Misra, along with Justice P C Pant, declined to de-criminalise defamation, an offence punishable with two years in jail apart from fine.
In another landmark verdict, Justice Misra said that “horrendous acts of mobocracy” cannot be allowed to overrun the law of the land and asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to sternly deal with mob lynching and cow vigilantism.
On the power tussle between the Delhi government and the Centre, he held that Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal does not have independent decision-making powers and is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
Justice Misra also upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation and was also part of the Bench of seven senior-most judges which convicted then sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C S Karnan, of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment.
The apex court had also rejected the pleas of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and others to decriminalise the colonial-era penal provisions and they will now have to face criminal defamation cases lodged against them.
CJI Misra was also part of the bench which had in 2015 granted anticipatory bail granted to activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband in a case related to alleged misuse of funds meant for Gujarat riots victims.
In 2015, a Bench led by Justice Misra set aside the ban on dance bars under the Maharashtra Police Act.
A bench headed by him also ordered theatres to mandatorily play the national anthem before a movie and the audience to stand in a bid to “instil committed patriotism and nationalism”. The direction was later made optional.
Misra presided over a bench that reversed the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand after the ouster of Harish Rawat government. Another bench that struck down the provision of the Cine Costume and Make-up Artists Association prohibiting women make-up artists and hairdressers from becoming its members.
A bench headed by him ordered speedy trial of POCSO cases and issued a slew of directions to all high courts regarding trial in sexual assault cases involving children.
Juctice Misra was born on October 3, 1953. After his enrolment as an advocate in 1977, Justice Misra practiced in constitutional, civil, criminal, revenue, service and sales tax matters in the Orissa High Court.
He was appointed as an additional judge of the Orissa High Court on January 17, 1996, before his transfer to the Madhya Pradesh High Court. He became a permanent judge on December 19, 1997.