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N.V. Ramana | Justice for all

The new CJI comes with a record of defending civil liberties and human rights

April 24, 2021 09:50 pm | Updated December 02, 2021 10:49 pm IST

Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana was sworn in as the 48th Chief Justice of India by the President in the Ashoka Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in a short ceremony on Saturday. He took his oath, signed his name, and then rose and held his folded hands high in one sweeping motion at the people assembled, including his predecessor Justice S.A. Bobde, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other Supreme Court judges, before retiring to his seat.

Born to agriculturists Ganapthi Rao and Sarojni Devi in Ponnavaram village of Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, the 63-year-old new Chief Justice’s life has, in a way, been a quiet revolution. He turned to books at an early age. His other passion was Carnatic music. But what moved the young Ramana most was the lack of civil liberties in the pre-Emergency era. The incidents of his youth, especially during the Emergency period, spurred Chief Justice Ramana, who was already working as a journalist with a Telegu newspaper, to become a lawyer. “I became a lawyer by coincidence,” he had said once. He was called to the Bar on February 10, 1983 — a first-generation lawyer.


As a lawyer, he practised in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Central and Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunals, and the Supreme Court. He specialised in Constitutional, civil, labour, service and election matters. He had also practised before Inter-State River Tribunals.

He was a counsel for various government organisations and the Additional Standing Counsel for Railways in the Central Administrative Tribunal in Hyderabad before his appointment as the Additional Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh. He was appointed to the Andhra High Court in June 2000 as a permanent judge. He was the first person from his village to be appointed a judge.

He would go on to function as Andhra HC’s Acting Chief Justice 13 years later, before he was elevated as the Delhi High Court Chief Justice. He was appointed as a Supreme Court judge in February 2014. He is scheduled to retire as the CJI on August 26, 2022.

Chief Justice Ramana's judicial orders and verdicts use clear language. He believes that judgments should be heard and understood by all.

Equal access

Chief Justice Ramana, in his recent speeches, has focussed on three aspects: ensuring equal access to justice, upholding of civil liberties against human rights violations by the State and the setting up of a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation to bring the much-needed “uniformity and standardisation” into the court infrastructure.

His judgments in the Supreme Court has questioned, and often challenged, the status quo brought about by the government as far as civil liberties are concerned. “The most vulnerable are often the victims of human rights atrocities, by either the State or by anti-social elements,” he said recently.

In January last year, Justice (as he was then) Ramana made it mandatory for the Jammu and Kashmir authorities to publish each and every one of their orders, which crippled the fundamental freedoms of over 7 million Kashmiri people following the abrogation of Article 370. His Bench had held that a right cannot be used against itself. The extensive reach of the Internet cannot be cited as a reason to restrict the right. “Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to disseminate information to as wide a section of the population as possible,” he had observed in his judgment. In his years as Supreme Court judge, he was part of various decisions ranging from electoral issues to rights of women to bringing the Chief Justice of India’s office under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI).

He was part of a Constitution Bench in 2019, which held that the the CJI’s office was a ‘public authority’ accountable under RTI to provide information sought in public interest. However, in a separate opinion, he said “RTI should not be used as a tool of surveillance”.

A Bench led by him, in a recent judgment, criticised the paternalistic notion that homemakers neither work nor contribute anything of economic value to the household.

His judgment in the Karnataka MLAs’ disqualification case had said it was time to “reconsider strengthening certain aspects of the Tenth Schedule”. The verdict said horse-trading of political parties and partisan Speakers were denying citizens a stable government.

Chief Justice Ramana had remained stoic in the face of a recent storm whipped up by a complaint filed by Andhra Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy naming him on October 6 last year. It was timed shortly after a Bench led by Justice Ramana started hearing and fast-tracking hundreds of criminal cases against Ministers, legislators and politicians, pending in trial courts across the country. Mr. Reddy himself is involved in several such cases. An in-house Procedure of the Supreme Court dismissed the complaint.

“It is an important quality for a judge to withstand all pressures and odds and to stand up bravely against all obstacles,” Chief Justice Ramana had said in an address to the Madras Bar Association in October last year.

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