Indu Malhotra, a senior advocate with a heart for social causes, is the first woman lawyer to be recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium for direct elevation to the court. If her appointment goes through, Ms. Malhotra will be the seventh woman lawyer in independent India to become a judge of the top court.
Why is it significant?
Now, Justice R. Banumathi is the lone woman judge in the top court with a strength of 25 judges. Amid a call for greater gender diversity in the Supreme Court, Ms. Malhotra’s name was cleared unanimously by the Collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
A day after the announcement, however, the court plunged into a crisis over the allotment of sensitive cases to select Benches, raised by its four senior-most judges. The issue is being sorted out. Ms. Malhotra’s direct move from Bar to Bench is seen as breaking a major glass ceiling by many in the legal fraternity, as it has cleared the decks for more woman advocates to get directly nominated as judges of the Supreme Court. All the six previous woman judges of the court were elevated from the High Court, the first being Justice M. Fathima Beevi in 1989.
The Supreme Court has always had no or little representation from woman judges; it took 39 years for the court to get its first. Ms. Malhotra’s appointment will revive the call for greater gender equality in the court.
What’s been her journey?
A second generation lawyer, Ms. Malhotra was born in 1956 in Bengaluru. She moved to Delhi when she was young.
She joined the legal profession in her late 20s; before that, she was a Delhi University lecturer in the morning and a law student in the evening. She had a short stint as a teacher at Miranda House College and Vivekananda College in Delhi.
Most of her litigation career, spanning over three decades, has been spent at the Supreme Court. She even secured first position in the Advocate-on-Record examination for the Supreme Court, a tough one to crack for most lawyers.
In 2007, she became the second woman to be designated a senior advocate by the Supreme Court, after the legendary Justice Leila Seth, who was given the honour in 1977.
This was no mean feat as getting selected by the Supreme Court to be designated as a senior advocate is very tough because all the sitting judges of the top court have to unanimously give consent to the decision. Even if one judge dissents, the application is rejected.
She has represented various statutory bodies such as the Securities Exchange Board of India, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research.
An empanelled arbitrator with several Institutional Arbitration bodies, Ms. Malhotra has authored The Law and Practice of Arbitration in India , which was released in April 2014.
What does she stand for?
Ms. Malhotra is on the board of trustees of SaveLIFE Foundation and represented the NGO in a case which resulted in the Supreme Court issued a slew of directions to protect good Samaritans who save lives in road accidents.
She also spearheaded a legal battle in the Supreme Court on the NGO’s plea to strike down a provision in the Motor Vehicles Rules, which allows protruding rods to be carried in trucks, a major cause of fatalities.
Based on the plea, the Centre imposed a ban on vehicles carrying protruding rods or protruding load from March 2014. She was instrumental in the court’s July 2015 landmark verdict that unmarried mothers could have legal guardianship of their children without the father’s consent.
In 2012, Ms. Malhotra made a fervent plea for setting up complaint committees in courts to examine incidents of sexual harassment of female advocates in court complexes.
Subsequently, the Supreme Court formed a 10-member sexual harassment committee, of which Ms. Malhotra was a member.