Former chief justice of India S H Kapadia, who passed away in Mumbai on Monday night at the age of 68, left behind a legacy of unimpeachable integrity, discipline and principles.
During his tenure in the Supreme Court (SC), he delivered some landmark judgements. His stint perhaps had the most landmark judgments on institutional integrity and a host of other issues. He espoused the cause of institutional integrity in the appointment of highly-placed officials soon after becoming the CJI in 2010. He was involved in a total of 834 judgments and orders, having authored 262 of these.
Notable among the judgements he delivered were the quashing of appointment of chief vigilance commissioner P J Thomas in 2011.
The judgment he will perhaps be most remembered for is the one in Vodafone International Holdings vs Union of India, where he held that Indian tax authorities did not have territorial jurisdiction to tax offshore transactions.
Kapadia practically dedicated his life to the profession. Even during the first summer holidays after he became chief justice, Kapadia came to office everyday to streamline the SC registry, which allegedly had deteriorated into a corrupt office where ‘bench hunting’ was common. Kapadia has put an end to it.
He had stopped out-of-turn mentioning of cases to be taken up urgently, which has caused some consternation among lawyers. Earlier, lawyers could request the judge while the court was in session to take up an unlisted matter because it was urgent. Kapadia’s integrity was his most important and only asset as he once said. He was born into a poor Parsi family soon after India’s independence.
Justice Kapadia started his career as a Class IV employee. He later joined Gagrat & Co, a law firm, as a clerk and went on to work with Feroze Damania, a popular ‘firebrand’ labour lawyer. He became an advocate in the Bombay High Court on September 10, 1974.
Justice Kapadia was appointed as additional judge of the Bombay High Court on October 8, 1991, and on March 23, 1993, he was appointed a permanent judge. On August 5, 2003, he became the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court. On December 18, 2003 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court.
In May 12, 2010, he was sworn in as the 38th chief justice of India and served at the top post till retirement on September 29, 2012.
* Kapadia held that the I-T dept did not have territorial jurisdiction to levy Rs 11,000 crore as tax on an offshore transaction between Vodafone International Holdings and Hutchison Group
* Morgan Stanley case: He held that captive BPOs of foreign firms operating in India are not liable to be taxed here if they are billing the subsidiaries on an ‘arm’s length’ basis or without giving any preference.
* He upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 that provides for free & compulsory education to children aged between 6 and 14 years.