In his first month in office, Justice D Y Chandrachud has taken several key judicial and administrative decisions having a far-reaching impact such as deciding to examine the right to marriage of gay couples and ordering protection of an area in Varanasi’s Gyanvapi complex where a ‘shivling’ was claimed to have been found.
Justice Chandrachud, who has been credited with taking steps for digitisation of the judiciary, gave a green signal for operationalising an online RTI portal and making available an updated android version 2.0 of SC mobile application.
The Chief Justice of India has also attempted to streamline the listing of cases by giving primacy to bail petitions and matrimonial transfer cases and decided that every apex court bench will hear 10 such pleas each before starting regular proceedings. Besides, Justice Chandrachud has also decided to set up four special benches to hear criminal appeals, direct and indirect tax and land acquisition matters and motor accident claim cases respectively.
Justice Chandrachud was sworn in as the 50th CJI by President Droupadi Murmu on November 9. Born on November 11, 1959, Justice Chandrachud studied in St Stephen’s College and the Campus Law Centre before going to Harvard. He was elevated to the top court on May 13, 2016.
Justice Chandrachud has been part of several Constitution benches and landmark verdicts like on the Ayodhya issue that paved the way for the construction of the Ram Temple at the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh and Right to Privacy. He will have a tenure of two years as the CJI and during this period, as many as 19 posts of judges in the Supreme Court will have to be filled.Presently, there are seven vacancies in the top court against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges including the CJI.
The last 30 days have been quite eventful as the CJI batted in favour of the collegium system of appointment of judges and also called for respect of the district judiciary while asking judges of the higher judiciary to get rid of the “colonial mindset”.He also expressed his disapproval of the notion that only educated people are better decision-makers.
Over four years after a bench of which he was a part decriminalised consensual gay sex between adults, a CJI-led bench sought response from the central government to separate pleas by two gay couples seeking enforcement of their right to marry and a direction to authorities to register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act.
In a separate matter, a bench led by the CJI sought responses from the Centre, states and Union territories (UTs) on a PIL seeking issuance of directions for providing free sanitary pads to girls studying in classes 6 to 12 in government schools across the country. On November 25, the CJI-led bench dismissed the NIA’s plea challenging the bail granted by the Bombay High Court to scholar-activist Anand Teltumbde in the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case.
In a recent speech while inaugurating a new building block for the Delhi High Court, he said, “India also survives much beyond” the national capital and there was a need to focus on district judiciary and proper infrastructure for it as the country “goes forward”.In the coming days, the apex court under the leadership of the CJI will organise its first ‘hackathon’ event to identify innovative ideas and explore practical propositions for refining and bringing in efficiency in the existing process from ‘filing to listing’ of judicial matters.
Speaking on the occasion of the Constitution Day celebrations, he had said the practice of democratic ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity must be enabled by legislature and the executive besides the courts sustaining these values by “foregrounding” them in judicial decisions.He stressed on simplifying the litigation process to make it “citizen-centric” and said the judiciary has been adopting technology to improve the working of courts and it is of “supreme importance” that courts are remodelled to reach out to citizens instead of them reaching out to courts in their quest for justice.
Acknowledging the issues of using open platforms like YouTube for live-streaming of court proceedings, he said the top court would be taking steps to have its own judicial infrastructure to start live streaming of proceedings whose access would be given to “bona fide” persons like litigants, asserting it has to ensure that the “sanctity of the institution is maintained”.
No institution in a constitutional democracy, including the collegium, is perfect and the solution is to work out within the existing system, he said on the collegium system of judges appointing judges. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has been very critical of the collegium system in his recent public statements. Speaking at the Constitution Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) here, the CJI had said judges are faithful soldiers who implement the Constitution.
In another speech, he asked Supreme Court and High Court judges to shun the “colonial mindset” and the “culture of subordination” while dealing with district court judges, saying the country needs to move towards a “more modern and equal judiciary”.The Supreme Court Collegium headed by the CJI also recommended transfer of seven high court judges to different high courts in the country.
The recommendations relating to transfer of few judges also led to protests in the Telangana and Gujarat High Courts by lawyers’ bodies.Later, the list of high court judges, who were recommended for transfer, did not include Justice Nikhil S Kariel of the Gujarat High Court.The CJI also sought assistance of senior lawyer S K Rungta, a visually impaired person, to help the technical team make the software used by the Supreme Court accessible to those who are visually impaired.
He also asked the Centre to take steps to ensure e-filing of papers in all revenue matters in the top court, high courts and tribunals like the Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) and the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal within three months. He was also part of an important verdict expanding the scope of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and the corresponding rules to include unmarried women for abortion between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.