D.Y. Chandrachud | The CJI whose dissents are as powerful as his judgments

Chandrachud had held that the Chief Justice and the Judges of the court were constitutional offices and not a hierarchy

October 11, 2022 01:17 pm | Updated July 03, 2023 08:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

File photo of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

File photo of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. | Photo Credit: PTI

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who sees dissent as the "safety valve of democracy", is known for his profound judgments and dissenting opinions which prick the conscience of the powerful and challenge the regressive while displaying ability, conscientiousness and a high sense of justice.

His minority views on the Bench of the court are as incisive as his concurring opinions. Both examine and question settled beliefs and opinions in society, politics and religion. They demand a fresh outlook and trigger the hope of reform.

"Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many," he wrote about the plight of the burgeoning population of undertrials languishing in jails across the country.

Justice Chandrachud's judgment recognising privacy as a fundamental right became a game-changer which led to the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (consensual adult homosexual relationships). Terming Section 377 as "Macaulay's legacy", Justice Chandrachud wrote that the provision "poses a grave danger to the unhindered fulfillment of one's sexual orientation as an element of privacy and dignity". His words "it is difficult to right a wrong by history. But we can set the course for the future" suggest more to come.

The historic dissent of the Aadhaar policy, which said the scheme reduced a person to a 12-digit number, overshadowed the main judgment.

His was the sole dissenting opinion upholding the rights of five activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. He reminded the judiciary that dissent cannot be sacrificed at the altar of conjectures.

"Dissent is a symbol of a vibrant democracy. Voices in opposition cannot be muzzled by persecuting those who take up unpopular causes," Justice Chandrachud wrote in his minority opinion.

His separate view concurring with a Constitution Bench held that the office of the Chief Justice of India was a public authority under the Right to Information Act and liable to provide information sought in public interest. Recently, Justice Chandrachud announced the court would shortly set up an online platform to deal with RTI applications.

He had held that the Chief Justice and the judges of the court were constitutional offices and not a hierarchy.

However, it was also Justice Chandrachud's judgment which upheld the CJI's role as the master of the roster entrusted with the duty to constitute Benches and allocate cases. The judge had objected to any presumption of distrust against the CJI in his exclusive prerogative.

A common theme in Justice Chandrachud's judgment is an effort to ensure the rights and choices of women in society and workspaces.

In the Hadiya case, the judge held that a person's right to choose a religion and marry as an intrinsic part of her meaningful existence. Justice Chandrachud broke the glass ceiling in a judgment decriminalising adultery by championing the sexual autonomy of women within marriage. In his opinion in the Sabarimala judgment, the judge held that women of menstrual age had the right to enter the temple. He held that immunising customs and usages took away the primacy of the Constitution.

The judge had criticised the government's reluctance to find women Army and Navy short service officers eligible for permanent commission. He dismissed the view that women were physiologically weaker than men as a "sex stereotype".

In a recent judgment, Justice Chandrachud held that single women with 20 to 24 weeks pregnant had the same right to safe abortion as their married counterparts. "The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity and privacy gives an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on the same footing as that of a married woman," he wrote. He also added as an aside in the same judgment that sexual assault by a man of his wife could take the form of rape, thus giving a convincing argument to make marital rape an offence.

In another case while declaring passive euthanasia permissible, the judge stretched 'free will' to the extent of recognising the "right of a person to refuse medical treatment".

The judge was part of the Bench which framed the guidelines for the state to act against the rising tide of "horrendous acts of mobocracy" against the minorities. He was also part of the Bench which unanimously upheld the right of the Hindu side to the title of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi land.

He had also authored the judgment which concluded that Judge Loya died of natural causes and dismissed PILs alleging foul play.

Justice Chandrachud has spearheaded the Supreme Court's efforts as its e-committee chairperson to embrace technology in judicial work, especially during the tough days of the pandemic. He recently declared a Constitution Bench headed by him as a "paperless" Bench. He was part of the Bench which agreed to live-stream court proceedings and made it a reality. Constitution Benches of the court are now live-streamed through YouTube.

"Citizens have a right to know about and to follow court proceedings. It will sub-serve the cause of access to justice," Justice Chandrachud had observed.

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