The development comes minutes after a Bench led by Chief Justice N V Ramana expressed displeasure and termed the abrupt curtailment of Justice Cheema's tenure before the due date of retirement as “awkward.”
The government on Thursday agreed, as a one-off measure, before the Supreme Court to reinstate Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema as acting chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) till the date of his retirement on September 20 and send the incumbent, Justice M Venugopal, on leave till then.
The development comes minutes after a Bench led by Chief Justice N V Ramana expressed displeasure and termed the abrupt curtailment of Justice Cheema’s tenure before the due date of retirement as “awkward.”
The government conceded to allow Justice Cheema to rejoin the post after the Bench threatened to suo motu stay the Tribunal Reforms Act of 2021. The government, however, made it clear that Justice Cheema’s reinstatement was after considering the “peculiar circumstances” of his case and should not be treated as a precedent.
Justice Cheema had filed the petition challenging the government’s hasty decision to replace him with Justice M Venugopal, just 10 days before his retirement. Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing Justice Cheema, said it was not proper to treat a former Bombay High Court judge, who had been part of the legal profession for 40 years, in this manner.
At the outset, Attorney General KK Venugopal while defending the government’s action, said for all official purposes Justice Cheema would be considered to have completed his tenure but only on paper since the government had appointed another person in his place and he will be entitled to full pensions and benefits. He added that it will be very “awkward” if the government re-appoints Justice Cheema after appointing a new acting chairperson Justice Venugopal.
As the matter was adjourned for 30 minutes for the AG to take instructions, the government blinked and allowed Justice Cheema’s reinstatement. “So, we have decided that he will be allowed to go to the office and pronounce (pending) judgments,” the AG said, adding that current chairperson Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave.
Appreciating AG’s efforts in breaking the deadlock, the Bench thanked Venugopal for solving the problem.
Justice Venugopal, a judicial member at Chennai Bench of the NCLAT, happens to be the third Acting Chairperson in a row for the NCLAT since the retirement of the regular NCLAT Chairperson, Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, in March last year.