Justice Prabodh Dinkarrao Desai was by far the finest Judge I have known in my four decades in the legal profession. He was true to his oath and lived by very strict principles which he expected others to follow. The foremost quality of Justice Desai was his fearlessness. When any Judge takes oath, he swears to work to the best of his ability without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. “Fear” was a word which did not exist in Justice Desai’s mind or dictionary. He worked tirelessly as a Judge and Chief Justice for 23 years, never seeking any reward for himself. A man who was elevated as a Judge of the High Court at the young age of 39 years could well have risen to the highest judicial post in the country if he had played his cards right. However, Justice Desai believed in doing the right things, and not in playing his cards right. He never pandered to those in power and sacrificed his future in his quest for truth. He may never have been elevated to the Supreme Court but today he is acknowledged and remembered as one of the finest Judges this country has ever seen.
Justice Desai was a Judge way ahead of his times. He used the Constitution as a tool to ameliorate the lives of the downtrodden. He was not bound by the rules of procedure and if, within the bounds of law, he could give relief to any petitioner before him he never hesitated to do so. Justice Desai was one of the pioneers of public interest litigation. He was an activist Judge who did not hesitate to take action even on letters written to him, if those letters disclosed violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. It was he who said that the right to have motorable road is a fundamental right within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution. In some cases he entertained letters without disclosing the names of the persons who had written the letter. He was a messiah for the needy, the downtrodden and those whose fundamental rights have been curtailed whether it be in jail or outside. In one of his judgments he said “fundamental rights do not flee a person as he enters the prison”.1
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* Valedictory address at the workshop of lawyers, organised by Praleen Public Charitable Trust and Lecture Committee at Ahmedabad, Gujarat on 7-9-2019.
**The article has been published with due permission of Eastern Book Company. Cite as (2020) 4 SCC J-14
† Judge, Supreme Court of India.
2 ADM, Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, (1976) 2 SCC 521.
3 Queen Empress v. Jogendera Chunder Bose, ILR (1892) 19 Cal 35.
4 Id., p. 44.
5 Queen Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, ILR (1898) 22 Bom. 112.
6 R. v. Aldred, (1909) 22 Cox CC 1.
10 Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.
11 State of Bihar v. Shailabala Devi, AIR 1952 SC 329.
12 Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955.
13 Bengal Immunity Co. Ltd. v. State of Bihar, AIR 1955 SC 661.
14 R.M.D. Chamarbaugwalla v. Union of India, AIR 1957 SC 628.
15 Kedar Nath case, AIR 1962 SC 955, 969, para 26.
16 Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 SCC 214.
17 Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P., (1997) 7 SCC 431.
19 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1.
20 Id, pp. 130-31, para 13.
21 Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 587.
22 Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 587, paras 15-16.
23 Peoples’ Union For Civil Liberties v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1820.