Centre agrees to reinstate Justice Cheema as Acting Chairperson of NCLAT

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File  

After a brief impasse with the Supreme Court on Thursday, the Centre agreed, as a one-off measure, to reinstate Justice A.I.S Cheema as Acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) till the date of his retirement on September 20 so that he can pronounce judgments pending with him.

The government blinked after the to and fro between the Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana and the government, represented by Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, reached such a pass that the court threatened to suo motu stay the Tribunal Reforms Act of 2021.

The government 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.

The reinstatement spells relief for Justice Cheema, who had challenged his “premature” and sudden removal from office as NCLAT Acting Chairperson on September 10. Senior advocate Arvind Datar, for Justice Cheema, had raised the point that this was no way to treat a former Bombay High Court judge who had been part of the legal profession for 40 years.

Mr. Venugopal informed the court that Justice M. Venugopal, a former Madras High Court judge who was appointed the new NCLAT Acting Chairperson on September 11, would go on leave for the next few days till Justice Cheema completes his tenure on September 20.

Chief Justice Ramana appreciated Mr. K.K. Venugopal’s efforts to resolve the brief stalemate between the court and the government on the issue. Mr. Datar also thanked the Attorney-General.

However, the first half of the hearing witnessed a tense exchange between the Bench and Mr. K.K.Venugopal.

It began with Mr. K.K. Venugopal placing on the table the offer that Justice Cheema would be “treated” as Acting Chairperson till September 20 and be paid his service benefits. The top law officer said it would be “very awkward” for the government to remove Justice Venugopal now.

But the Bench said Justice Cheema still had to pronounce five judgments. The court said it was the government which had “created the awkward situation”.

The court said if there was admittedly no doubt whatsoever about Justice Cheema’s integrity, why had the government stopped him from completing his term on September 20.

Initially, Mr. K.K. Venugopal said the government would then argue the case on merits. However, the CJI decided to hear the case again after some time, giving Mr. K.K. Venugopal an opportunity to consult the government. Half an hour later, Mr. K.K. Venugopal conveyed to the court the government’s decision to reinstate Justice Cheema till September 20.

“That is good… The Attorney-General has solved the problem,” Chief Justice Ramana told a beaming Mr. K.K. Venugopal.

Justice Venugopal 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.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 12:25:18 PM |

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