On his final working day as the Chief Justice of India, Justice N.V. Ramana was on Friday given an emotional farewell by his colleagues and lawyers.
An overwhelmed senior advocate Dushyant Dave called Chief Justice Ramana a “citizens’ judge”, while senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the CJI sought answers from the government even during “turbulent times”.
Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta too shared their thoughts on Justice Ramana’s stint as the Chief Justice.
“When you ultimately judge me as a judge, I would like to say that I may be judged as a very ordinary judge, but one who greatly relished and enjoyed the job. I may be judged as one who meticulously followed the rules of the game and did not trespass into provinces forbidden. More importantly, as one who recognised preliminarily the moral power of a judge,” Chief Justice Ramana said in his farewell address. The CJI’s last day in court was live-streamed on the Supreme Court website.
Calming the waters
He took over as the Chief Justice when work at the Supreme Court was severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The preceding years had been rough on the court for several reasons; it ranged from a press conference held by four senior top court judges to sexual allegations levelled against a sitting CJI.
His immediate predecessor had not managed to secure a single appointment to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Ramana calmed the waters and turned the Collegium into a coherent unit.
The Collegium, during his 16-month tenure, appointed 11 judges to the top court. It recommended 255 names to various High Courts, of which 224 have already been appointed. This amounted to nearly 20% of the total sanctioned strength of the High Courts.
The top court had the largest number of women judges during Chief Justice Ramana’s tenure, and one of them, Justice B.V. Nagarathna, is scheduled to be India’s first woman Chief Justice.
Supreme Court Bar Association president, senior advocate Vikas Singh recollected the CJI’s efforts to reach out with a message that the judiciary was still “relevant, vibrant and alive to the rights of the people”.
His judicial work ranged from ordering an inquiry into the Pegasus snooping allegations to an intervention in the Lakhimpur Kheri killings. He froze the colonial sedition law of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and ordered a review of the court’s judgment upholding certain controversial amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act within a month of the verdict.
Pendency a challenge
However, the Supreme Court website reflects a pendency of 492 Constitution Bench cases as on August 1. These include challenges to the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the farm laws and the electoral bonds scheme, among others.
“These cases affect the daily lives of very large sections of the populace, in addition to being issues of national importance. Early disposal of these cases will restore the faith that we as citizens repose in the judiciary and the Supreme Court,” a letter written to the court last year by people from a cross-section of society, including Admiral L. Ramdas, activist Medha Patkar, and retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro, had urged.
Chief Justice Ramana frankly admitted that pendency was a “huge challenge”.
“I must admit that issues of listing and posting of matters is one of the areas to which I could not pay much attention. We were busy fire-fighting on a daily basis. All sides are equal contributors for this problem,” he said.