Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday expressed his grief over the death of Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) P.N. Bhagwati, who passed away here on Thursday, following a brief illness. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister Modi while hailing him as the ‘stalwart of India’s legal fraternity’, lauded his achievements and contribution to the judicial system. President Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also tweeted their condolences to Bhagwati’s kin. A 96-year old recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, Bhagwati was the 17th Chief Justice. Born on December 21, 1921 in Gujarat, Bhagwati was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court in 1973, and also served a brief stint as the Governor of Gujarat.
Bhagwati reached the peak of his career in 1985, when he assumed the office of the Chief Justice of India, from July 12 that year till his retirement in December 20, 1986. Hailed as the pioneer of judicial activism, Bhagwati, during his tenure as a Supreme Court judge, introduced the concepts of public interest litigation (PIL) and absolute liability to the Indian judicial system.
Furthermore, he had stated in one of his rulings that a person is not required to have any right or capacity to pledge a case or appear in court, with regards to governing their fundamental rights. Bhagwati also cited the case of prisoners, stating that they too were entitled to a similar right. In what was known as a landmark judgment, Bhagwati was instrumental in hearing the passport impounding case of 1978 involving renowned activist Maneka Gandhi, where he pronounced that every individual has the right to hold a passport, without any restriction on his or her movement.
On July 2, 1977, Maneka Gandhi received a letter from the regional passport officer in New Delhi, whereby she was required to surrender her passport within seven days of receipt of the letter, as directed under section 10(3)(c ) of the Passport Act. To this regard, Gandhi had subsequently filed a petition in the apex court challenging the order, and claimed that it was a violation of her fundamental rights as guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution.