It was during CJI SA Bobde's tenure that courts across India had to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, the 47th Chief Justice of India, is retiring today. His 18-month tenure has been filled with some consequential and watershed judgements in the history of the Supreme Court. CJI Bobde, who was appointed on November 18, 2019, is one of the longest-serving CJIs in the last 8 years. The late Justice SH Kapadia was the last Supreme Court judge to hold a longer tenure than him as CJI. Unfortunately, it was during CJI Bobde’s tenure that courts across India had to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So let’s take a look at major decisions and controversies surrounding his tenure:
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As the COVID-19 pandemic forced courts to move to video conference hearings, a major shift also took place when it came to filing of cases. The Supreme Court under CJI SA Bobde launched and moved to a new e-filing module. Though the facility had been there for around a decade, it was hardly used. With physical hearings shut due to the pandemic, e-filing and E-hearings received a much-needed impetus by the apex court. A new e-filing module for the Supreme Court was launched in May 2020 which made filing of cases completely electronic.
Sexual harassment case against former CJI
CJI SA Bobde headed the in-house committee comprising of justice NV Ramana and Indira Banerjee which looked into the allegation of sexual harassment against former CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The committee had submitted its report saying that it did not find any substance in the allegations. A SC Staff had alleged that she was sexually harassed by former CJI Gogoi. The matter was heard by a bench comprising of Justice Arun Mishra, RF Nariman, and Deepak Gupta.
Ban on firecrackers
Every year in the recent past, there has been a ban on the sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region. Last year as well, the court had ordered a ban on the sale and use of firecrackers due to pollution. Notably, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Sharad Arvind Bobde, TS Thakur and Arjun Kumar Sikri had given a judgment in 2016 suspending the sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region. It was the first time in 2016 that a ban on sale was imposed.
Migrant Labour Crisis During Lockdown
It was one of the controversial decisions by the top court under CJI SA Bobde’s leadership. During the first phase of the lockdown, the SC received several petitions highlighting the plight of the migrant labourers who walked day and night to reach their hometown. While High Courts had expressed empathy towards the labourers’ plight and had asked the Central and State government to take effective measures to resolve the crisis, the Supreme Court’s handling of the petitions was openly criticised. The Central government had submitted in the court that no migrant labourers were on the road and that all of them had been taken to government shelters. Contrary to the submission, the news channels and reports continued to show a queue of migrants on highways. However, the court accepted the government’s submission and refused to pass any order on the issue. A plea for payment of minimum wages to migrant workers during the lockdown, another plea seeking free transportation for migrant workers to their native states met a similar fate. However, only after some newspaper articles by former judges and lawyers highlighted the troubles faced by migrant workers, the Supreme Court passed directions to provide free transportation and food to migrants.
Suspension of farm laws by the Supreme Court was another major decision under CJI SA Bobde. The apex court in January this year stayed the implementation of three controversial farm laws which attracted widespread protest from farmers. Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi borders for the past five months demanding legal guarantee and repeal of the farm laws. A three-judge Bench led by CJI Sharad A Bobde had also ordered the formation of an expert committee to look into the matter. The three controversial laws are- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.
Notably, Justice SA Bobde was also a part of the landmark Ayodhya verdict delivered by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi headed the five-judge Constitution bench. The bench which gave this judgment comprised Ranjan Gogoi, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, Abdul Nazeer and Sharad Arvind Bobde.