Chief Justice SA Bobde retires: A look at his legacy and justice in the time of COVID-19

“The judicial branch is the ICU of a constitutional democracy; and essentially a public service of a critical nature; not another public employment opportunity. There is no legitimacy or rationale for the existence of this branch if some of us are unable to deliver even the minimal quality of justice that is expected of this, sentinel on the qui vive.”

-Justice SA Bobde[1]


As Hon’ble Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde’s tenure as the 47th Chief Justice of India comes to a close, we take a trip down the memory lane to recapitulate his journey.


Travelling Back in Time


Justice Bobde was born on 24th April, 1956 in Nagpur in a prominent legal family. His great- grandfather Ramachandra Pant Bobde was a noted lawyer so was his grandfather Shrinivas Ramchandra Bobde. His father, Arvind Shrinivas Bobde was an eminent lawyer and Advocate-General of Maharashtra in 1980 and 1985[2]. Justice Bobde’s elder brother Vinod Arvind Bobde was a senior Supreme Court lawyer and a constitutional expert.

♦Did You Know?  Justice S.A. Bobde, a fourth generation lawyer in his family, is also the only family to become a Judge. In an interview given to the Indian Express, Justice Bobde said- “I made this conscious decision to be a judge because I am a fourth generation lawyer and I have only seen lawyers in my life. I was the only black sheep who moved towards the judiciary in that sense, and I took a conscious decision as I found being at the Bar repetitive in its rewards. I felt I should answer the call.”[3]

Justice Bobde passed High School in 1972 from St. Francis De’Sales High School. In 1978 He obtained his degree in law from Dr. Ambedkar Law College in Nagpur University.[4]

♦Did You Know? Justice Bobde was very active in extra- curricular activities during his school and college life. He actively participated in elocution, dramatics and sports; played tennis in the University College of Law team which won the inter-collegiate championship.[5] 


The High Court


Subsequently, Justice Bobde enrolled with the Bar Council of Maharashtra in 1978. He practised at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court with appearances at Bombay before the principal seat and before the Supreme Court of India for over 21 years. He was then designated as Senior Advocate in 1998.

On 29th March 2000, Justice Bobde was elevated to the bench of Bombay High Court as Additional Judge. Later he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court on 16th October, 2012.[6]


The Supreme Court


♦Did You Know?  During his tenure as Supreme Court Judge from 12.04.2013 to 17.11.2019, Justice Bobde had never been a part of any minority opinions.[7]

On 12th April, 2013, Justice Bobde was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. Being the senior most Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Bobde became the 47th Chief Justice of India on 18th November, 2019, succeeding Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who served as the Chief Justice of India for over a year i.e. from 3rd October, 2018 till 17th November, 2019.

Significant Supreme Court decisions by Justice Bobde 

Justice Bobde has been a part of some historic and landmark judgments which have furthered the discourse around several burning topics in the legal echelons. Here’s a list of some of the notable judgments during his tenure as a Judge and Chief Justice of India-

As Judge of the Supreme Court

M. Siddiq v. Mahant Suresh Das (Ram Janmabhumi Temple Verdict)(2020)1 SCC 1

The 5-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ, S.A. Bobde, Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ, sat down to finally put an end to the Ayodhya Title dispute and unanimously held that the disputed land is to be given to Trust for construction of Ram Mandir. In an effort to balance the interest of both the parties involved, the Court directed that a suitable plot of 5 acres must be granted to Sunni Waqf Board to set up a Mosque. Read more

K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (Privacy- 9 Judge) (2017) 10 SCC 1

Justice Bobde was also a part of the 9-judge bench that delivered a landmark judgment which unanimously held that the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. It was observed that Right to Privacy forms an intrinsic part of Art. 21 and freedoms guaranteed in Pt. III. It permeates core of Preambular philosophy underlying “liberty” and “dignity” as also human concepts of “life” and “personal liberty” enshrined in Art. 21 and wide ranging freedoms guaranteed under Pt. III, considered essential for a meaningful human existence. Read more

Jindal Stainless Ltd v. State of Haryana, (2017) 12 SCC 1

The 9-judge bench, by a ratio of 7:2, upheld the validity of the entry tax imposed by the States on goods imported from other States. It was held that taxes simpliciter are not within the contemplation of Part XIII of the Constitution of India and that the word ‘Free’ used in Article 301 does not mean “free from taxation”.  Justice Bobde gave the majority opinion that held that States are well within their right to design their fiscal legislations to ensure that the tax burden on goods imported from other States and goods produced within the State fall equally. Read more 

Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen (2017) 2 SCC 629

Justice Bobde gave the majority verdict in a 4:3 verdict of a 7-judge bench that held that an appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is impermissible under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election in which such an appeal was made regardless whether the appeal was in the name of the candidate’s religion or the religion of the election agent or that of the opponent or that of the voter’s. Read more

Krishna Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, (2017) 3 SCC 1

A 7-judge bench held that the failure to comply with the requirement of laying an ordinance before the legislature is a serious constitutional infraction and abuse of the constitutional process. Justice SA Bobde was part of the majority opinion. Read more

K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India (2015) 8 SCC 735

Justice Bobde was also a part the 3-judge bench that paved the way for the ‘Right to Privacy’ being declared as a fundamental right. The bench referred the question relating to validity of the Aadhaar scheme to a larger bench. It also held that till the matter was finally decided by the larger bench, it will not be mandatory for a citizen to obtain Aadhaar Card and also, production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen. Read more

Muthuramalingam v. State (2016) 8 SCC 313

Deciding an interesting question of law as to whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to a convict on being found guilty of a series of murders for which he has been tried in a single trial, the 5 judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ, Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde and R. Banumathi, JJ answered the question in negative and held that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively. Read more

Meera Santosh Pal v. Union of India (2017) 3 SCC 462 and Mamta Verma v. Union of India (2018) 14 SCC 289

Justice Bobde, along with Justice L. Nageswara Rao, has on more than one occasion, allowed women to undergo medical termination of pregnancy in light of the apprehended danger to their lives.

As Chief Justice of India

♦Did You Know?  In his tenure of 8 years in the Supreme Court (as Judge and Chief Justice) Justice S.A. Bobde has authored 68 judgments.[8]

In Re: Expeditious Trial of Cases under Section 138 of N.I. Act, 1881, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 325

Noticing that the summary trials of complaints filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 are being routinely converted to summons trials in a “mechanical manner”, the Constitution bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ directed the High Courts to issue practice directions to the Magistrates for recording cogent and sufficient reasons while doing so. The Court explained that in a case tried summarily in which the accused does not plead guilty, it is sufficient for the Magistrate to record the substance of the evidence and deliver a judgment, containing a brief statement of reasons for his findings. Read more

In re: Assessment of the Criminal Justice System in response to Sexual Offences2019 SCC OnLine SC 1654

In a bid to make criminal justice system responsive in cases relating to sexual assaults, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ sought information with regard to status of affairs at ground level from various duty holders like investigation agencies, prosecution, medico-forensic agencies, rehabilitation, legal aid agencies and also Courts to get a holistic view. Taking note of the fact that post Nirbhaya incident, which shocked the conscience of the nation, many amendments were introduced in criminal law redefining the ambit of offences, providing for effective and speedy investigation and trial, the Court noticed that still the desired results were not achieved and that as per the latest report of National Crime Records Bureau of Crime in India. Read more

Attorney General for India v. Satish, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 42

The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ stayed the controversial Bombay High Court judgment wherein the High Court had acquitted the accused under Section 8 of the POCSO Act, 2012 on the ground that the accused had no sexual intent in committing the offence under POCSO Act because there was no direct physical contact, i.e., skin to skin. Read more

Rakesh Vaishanv v. Union of India(2021) 1 SCC 590

The 3-Judge Bench of S.A. Bobde, CJ and A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., stayed the implementation of farms laws until further orders. Court also opined that a stay of implementation of all the three farm laws may assuage the hurt feelings of the farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith. Read more

Poornima v. Union of India2020 SCC OnLine SC 714

The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ has dismissed the claim of certain District Judges to club their services rendered as advocates with the service rendered by them as Judicial Officers, for determining their eligibility for elevation as High Court judges. Read more

Commissioner of Central Excise, Customs and Service Tax v.  Cera Boards and Doors, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 657

Explaining the scheme of provisions under the Central Excise Act, 1944, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ has laid down elaborate principles that the Adjudicating Authorities has to keep in mind while determining the value of excisable goods. Read more.

PLR Projects Pvt. Ltd v. Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 332

Taking note of the existing 220 vacancies in the High Courts, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and SK Kaul and Surya Kant, JJ stressed upon the importance of the Chief Justices of the High Courts making recommendations in time and said that there is no such impediment to initiate a new process without waiting for the result of the earlier recommendations. Read more

In Re: To Issue Certain Guidelines Regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies in Criminal Trials, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 329

After noticing common deficiencies which occur in the course of criminal trials and certain practices adopted by trial courts in criminal proceedings as well as in the disposal of criminal cases and causes, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhatt, JJ has directed all High Courts to take expeditious steps to incorporate the Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021 as part of the rules governing criminal trials, and ensure that the existing rules, notifications, orders and practice directions are suitably modified, and promulgated (wherever necessary through the Official Gazette) within 6 months. Read more

Lok Prahari v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 333

The 3- Judge Bench of SA Bobde, C.J., and SK Kaul and Surya Kant, JJ., while “activating a dormant provision of the Constitution of India – Article 224A”  issued guidelines for the appointment of ad-hoc judges in High Courts. It was observed that, “We have taken the first step with the hope and aspiration that all concerned would cooperate and retiring/retired Judges would come forth and offer their services in the larger interest of the Judiciary. The guidelines cannot be exhaustive and that too at this stage. If problems arise, we will endeavour to iron them out. We must set aside apprehensions, if any, to chart this course and we are confident that there will be a way forward”.  Read more

The Covid-19 Pandemic

Justice Bobde as the Chief Justice saw India fighting one of the severest health and humanitarian crisis in recent history in the form of Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic compelled everyone including the judiciary to take drastic steps and forego the conventional methods of hearing cases. This was also the time when the Chief Justice issued multiple guidelines for safe and smooth conduct of judicial proceedings. The CJI issued directions on some of the following important concerns as well –  

In Re : Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during Pandemic

A day before Justice Bobde’s retirement, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has taken suo motu cognisance of the “grim” situation of the country hit by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and has asked the Central Government to report on,

  1. The existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body that would consider allocation of COVID resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of concerned States and Union 3 Territories).
  2. Considering declaration of essential medicines and medical equipment including the Drugs, oxygen and vaccination as essential commodities in relation to COVID.
  3. In respect of coordination of logistical support for inter-State and Intra-State transportation and distribution of the above resources.

Read more…

In Re: Regarding closure of Mid-day Meal Scheme2020 SCC OnLine SC 342

A 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ took suo motu cognisance of non-availability of mid-day meals for children due to the closure of schools due to coronavirus spread and issued notices to all state governments and union territories. Read more

In Re: Guidelines for Court Functioning Through Video Conferencing during Covid-19 Pandemic2020 SCC OnLine SC 355

Faced with the unprecedented and extraordinary outbreak of a pandemic, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and Dr. DY Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ has called for functioning of courts through video conferencing. It said that it was necessary that Courts at all levels respond to the call of social distancing and ensure that court premises do not contribute to the spread of virus. Read more

In Re: Cognizance for Extension of Limitation2020 SCC OnLine SC 343

The 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, JJ invoked its power under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India and extended limitation period of appeals from high courts or tribunals on account of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Read more

In Re: Contagion of Covid 19 Virus in Prisons2020 SCC OnLine SC 320

A bench of SA Bobe, CJ., and LN Rao, J., took suo moto cognisance of overcrowding and infrastructure of prisons across the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and has issued a notice to the Director General, Prison, and chief secretary of all states and union territories seeking their response by March 20 on steps taken for prevention of COVID-19. The court also asked all states and union territories to depute an officer on March 23 who could assist the court in the matter. Read more

Legacy

♦Did You Know?  Justice S.A Bobde is an avid lover of motorcycles, especially Bullet by Royal Enfield and Harley Davidson.[9]

Justice SA Bobde’s tenure Supreme Court has been a roller-coaster ride. From being part of the judgment which decided one of the longest disputes in the judicial history (Ayodhya verdict) to overseeing functioning of the Courts in one of worst pandemic India has ever seen. his tenure saw myriad decisions related to constitutional aspects, but towards the end of his tenure his judgments highlighted the need for timely judicial appointments. He may have authored few judgments as compared to his predecessors, but nevertheless, all the judgments that he has been a part of, have helped to further the exchange of ideas in the legal community.


†Editorial Assistant, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

[1] CJI’s address in North Zone-I, Regional Conference on ‘Optimising Quality and Efficiency in Justice Delivery: Challenges and Opportunities

[2] Who is Sharad Arvind Bobde, Business Standard

[3] Interview with Justice SA Bobde, Indian Express

[4] Chief Justice and Judges, Supreme Court of India

[5] Justice S.A Bobde, Bombay High Court

[6] Justice S.A. Bobde, National Legal Services Authority.

[7] CJI Designate Justice Bobde, The Wire

[8] CJI Bobde, SC Observer

[9] Justice Bobde tries out a Harley Davidson, Hindustan Times

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