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“Justice Khanna was a crusader for civil rights”

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Justice H.R. Khanna (right) with the former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in this file photograph. — Photo: PTI
Justice H.R. Khanna (right) with the former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in this file photograph. — Photo: PTI

Legal Correspondent

Tributes to the former Supreme Court judge

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Bar Association paid glowing tributes to Justice H.R. Khanna, former judge of the Supreme Court, who passed away on February 25 at the age of 95.

Presiding over a condolence meeting on Wednesday, SCBA president P.H. Parekh described Justice Khanna as a crusader of civil and human rights. His passing away was a great loss for all those championing the cause of civil liberties and independence of the judiciary, he said.

Quoting eminent jurist Nani Palkhivala, Mr. Parekh said Justice Khanna’s statue must be installed in every street corner of the country for the yeoman service rendered by him for the cause of justice.

The meeting resolved to unveil a portrait of Justice Khanna in the Palkhivala library in the new chamber block.

Justice Khanna was a judge of the Supreme Court from September 1971 to March 1977, when he resigned after Justice M.H. Beg superseded him as the Chief Justice of India.

A Bench of five judges of the apex court heard what has come to be known as the habeas corpus case (ADM Jabalpur Vs Shiv Kant Shukla). The only question before the court was whether a petition for habeas corpus and other similar petitions under Article 226 of the Constitution were maintainable, notwithstanding the suspension of the fundamental rights following imposition of Emergency.

On April 28, 1976, four judges decided in favour of the government, holding that the petitions were not maintainable. Justice Khanna, in his dissenting judgment, held that the petitions were maintainable.

In 1977, on the principle of seniority, Justice Khanna should have been appointed Chief Justice. His dissenting judgment in the habeas corpus case sealed his fate. On January 28, 1977 Justice Beg, who decided in favour of the government, was appointed the CJI.

Equally noteworthy is his stand in the famous Kesavananda Bharati case (1973). In the 13-member Bench, six judges ruled that Parliament’s power was limited because of implied and inherent limitations of the Constitution, including those tagged to the Fundamental Rights. Six others held that there were no limitations at all on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.

Justice Khanna, however, held that because Parliament had the power only to amend the Constitution, it must leave the basic structure of the Constitution intact.

Mr. Parekh said Justice Khanna’s ruling still held the field.

He said there would be a full court reference in the Supreme Court next week.


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