Justice B.N. Agrawal of the Supreme Court, known for his forthright comments and observations retired on Wednesday after a nine-year tenure. Initially appointed as judge of the Patna High Court in November 1986, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Orissa High Court in November 1999. He became a Supreme Court judge on October 19, 2000.
During his long tenure in the Supreme Court he endeared himself with the members of the bar and was held in high esteem for his unimpeachable honesty and integrity. He rendered several important judgments. Presiding over a two-judge Bench, Justice Agrawal came down heavily on the former Bihar Governor Buta Singh and 464 other VIPs who were occupying official bungalows in the capital though they legally had no right to do so.
He was very harsh on Mr. Buta Singh when he observed “Buta Singh is [the then] Governor of Bihar. What is he doing here? How can he be occupying a house here [Delhi]. Governor cannot have a house here. Throw him out.” He said the law of eviction had become an utter failure because the people who laid down the law were themselves violating it by overstaying.
He was a member of the five-judge Constitution Bench that held as illegal the dissolution of Bihar Assembly. The majority Bench said “in the absence of the relevant material, much less due verification, the report of the Governor has to be treated as the personal ipse dixit (perception or opinion) of the Governor.
Cabinet should have verified the facts in the Governor’s report. The drastic and extreme action under Article 356 of the Constitution cannot be justified on mere ipse dixit, suspicion, whims and fancies of the Governor. This Court cannot remain a silent spectator watching the subversion of the Constitution. It is to be remembered that this court is the sentinel on the qui vive.”
In the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal project case, he passed an interim order restraining the Centre and the Sethusamudram Corporation from causing damage in any manner to “Ram Sethu’ (Adam’s bridge) while implementing the project. Even as judgment is reserved, the stay on causing damage to Ram Sethu continues to operate.
He presided over a Bench on a Sunday on September 30, 2007 and stayed the Tamil Nadu bandh the next day. The court held that political parties had no right to call or enforce a bandh, which interfered with the fundamental freedom of citizens and caused inconvenience to them. He also issued contempt notice to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and five others for alleged violation of the September 30, 2007 but after a detailed hearing dropped the contempt proceedings.
Taking a serious view of non-registration of First Information Report (FIR) when complaints are lodged, he asked the States to issue instructions to the police to register an FIR on receipt of a complaint failing which the police officer concerned would be suspended. The court said the police were bound to register FIR.
Presiding over a two-judge Bench with Justice Aftab Alam, Justice Agrawal, acted on media reports, in particular the report published in The Hindu, and criticised the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh for violating the restraint order on construction of memorials in Lucknow.
He was of the view that judiciary could question wastage of public expenditure by the government on self-glorification even if the expenditure had been approved by the State Assembly. On October 6, he issued contempt notice to the State Chief Secretary to show cause why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated and directed his personal appearance in the court on November 4.