A Man of Many Talents: Justice Lavu Nageswara Rao  

“Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases, unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order.”

Justice L. Nageswara Rao

Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 258

Despite the gloominess that generally surrounds farewells and retirements; they are probably the perfect occasion to reminisce about the uniqueness and the legacy that has been created by an individual. In the legal fraternity, a Supreme Court Judge’s retirement carries quite a sentiment. Of course, once you enter the field of law, the journey never really ends. But a Judge isn’t there only to judge. A judge has a superpower- a constitutionally mandated superpower to interpret the law. A judge’s interpretation has the force of law. Which is why, when a Supreme Court Judge retires, it feels like a loss of guidance and wisdom. Today, one such paragon of wisdom, Justice Lavu Nageswara Rao officially retires as a Supreme Court Judge and therefore it is time that we bring to you a recapitulation of Justice Rao’s stellar legal career.

Early Life and Career as an Advocate [1982- 2016]

Justice Rao was born on 08.06.1957 at Chirala, Prakasam District in Andhra Pradesh and did his schooling and graduation in Andhra itself (Nagarjuna University).[1]

♦Howzatt! Justice Rao participated in the Ranji Trophy cricket tournament in the year 1982.  Furthermore, in a recently held cricket match between Chief Justice of India- XI vs. Supreme Court Bar Association- XI, wherein, the CJI-XI defeated the SCBA-XI for the first time, with a whooping margin of 72 runs; with Justice L. Nageswara Rao becoming the “wrecker in chief” claiming 3 wickets for 9 runs in 2 overs!![2]

When not probing allegations against the Indian premier League, Justice Rao has a lot of interest in watching IPL matches![3]

His enrollment as an advocate at the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh in July 1982 meant that he became a first-generation lawyer in his family. Post enrollment, Justice Rao started practicing at the District Court in Guntur and at Andhra Pradesh High Court (at Hyderabad). In December 2000, Justice Rao was designated as a Senior Advocate by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. After a stint in his native State, Justice Rao set up his practice at the Supreme Court of India and continued to do so till his elevation as a Supreme Court Judge in 2016.[4]

Justice Nageswara Rao also served as Additional Solicitor General of India for two terms- first term from August 2003 to May, 2004; and second term from 26th August, 2013 to 18th December, 2014.[5]

♦Acting Chops![6]  Here’s a riveting titbit – In the year 1989, Justice L. N. Rao, who was still practicing as an advocate; appeared in the action-drama flick Kanoon Apna Apna alongside stars such as Dileep Kumar, Kader Khan and Sanjay Dutt. Not surprisingly, his reel role had a law connection; i.e. he played the role of a Police Officer!  

Not only films, during his college days, Justice Rao was very much involved in Theatre. However, he wasn’t much interested in pursuing acting as a career.  

Noteworthy Cases and Committees

Justice Rao represented late J. Jayalalitha in the disproportionate assets case before the Karnataka High Court and secured a favourable decision for her in the matter. [Selvi J. Jayalalitha v. State, 2015 SCC OnLine Kar 124]

Justice Rao also appeared for the Christian Medical College and State of Tamil Nadu in the NEET case before the Supreme Court [Christian Medical College v. Union of India, (2014) 2 SCC 305]

As Additional Solicitor General of India, Justice Rao was part of the 3- member Mudgal Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, to look into the allegations of corruption against the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and spot-fixing in the IPL.[7]

Some other prominent cases advocated by Justice Rao are as follows-

Samatha v. State of A.P., (1997) 8 SCC 191

State of A.P. v. A.P. SRTC, (2001) 9 SCC 197

M. Narsinga Rao v. State of A.P., (2001) 1 SCC 691

SAIL v. National Union Waterfront Workers, (2001) 7 SCC 1

ITC Ltd. v. Agricultural Produce Market Committee, (2002) 9 SCC 232

K.M. Mathew v. K.A. Abraham, (2002) 6 SCC 670

Air India Cabin Crew Assn. v. Yeshaswinee Merchant, (2003) 6 SCC 277

E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of A.P., (2005) 1 SCC 394

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (2011) 15 SCC 461

Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India, (2014) 3 SCC 1

High Court of Madras v. R. Gandhi, (2014) 11 SCC 547

Judgeship of Supreme Court of India [2016- 2022]

Justice Nageswara Rao was offered Supreme Court judgeship in 2014 by then Chief Justice of India R.M Lodha. He however, turned down the offer, citing personal and professional reasons[8]. Two years later, on 13.05.2016, Justice Rao finally took oath as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India[9].

♦From the Bar to the Bench! With his elevation as a Supreme Court Judge, Justice L. Nageswara Rao became the 7th lawyer to be directly elevated from the Bar[10]!   

 Notable Judgments

♦Double Century!  Justice L.N. Rao has authored 200+ judgments so far.[11]

Justice L. Nageswara Rao’s tenure as a Judge is remarkable for the number of landmark judgments that have been delivered on diverse issues. Furthermore, Justice Rao’s approach in authoring his judgments in a way that hits the proverbial ‘bull’s eye’ vis-a-vis discerning the ratio, has been praised by many for making the life of a practical lawyer easy.

The most noteworthy aspect of the judgements of Justice Nageswara Rao is its crisp and point-blank element which serves the purpose of the matter at hand with legal reasoning/ratio in lesser words.” – K. Ramakanth Reddy[12]

Justice Rao in his 6-year tenure dealt with matters ranging from protection of liberty of an individual to highlighting and berating corrupt electoral practices to ensuring a dignified life for all, irrespective of their caste, creed or profession. His decisions on these issues definitely provided a lot of fuel to the discourse within the legal circles. Some of the important issues that Justice L.N. Rao covered in decisions are as follows-

Grant of liberty

During the final days of his tenure at the Bench, Justice L.N. Rao granted big relief for A.G. Perarivalan, convicted for assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, [AG Perarivalan v. State, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 635] and directed his release after being incarcerated for 32 years. Similarly, Azam Khan and Indrani Mukherjea were granted bail in their respective cases.

Affirmative Action/ Reservation

Justice Rao was a part of the 5- Judge Bench in Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. State of Maharashtra, (2021) 8 SCC 1 that quashed the much in debate Maratha Reservation and held that the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 as amended in 2019 granting 12% and 13% reservation for Maratha community in addition to 50% social reservation is not covered by exceptional circumstances as contemplated by Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney’s[13] case.

In Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 96 the 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai, JJ., has answered 6 crucial questions in relation to quantifiable data showing inadequacy of representation in promotional posts.

However, Justice Rao, in Mukesh Kumar v. State of Uttarakhand, (2020) 3 SCC 1 held that no mandamus can be issued by the Court to the State to collect quantifiable data relating to adequacy of representation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in public services. The Court also held, “The State Government is not bound to make reservations. There is no fundamental right which inheres in an individual to claim reservation in promotions. No mandamus can be issued by the Court directing the State Government to provide reservations”.

In the case of Pattali Makkal Katchi v. A. Mayilerumperumal, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 386, relating to reservation of seats in Educational Institutions, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai, JJ observed that while caste can be the starting point for providing internal reservation, it is incumbent on the State Government to justify the reasonableness of the decision and demonstrate that caste is not the sole basis.

In a relief to students seeking admission in AIIMS Institutes, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and AS Bopanna, JJ., in Students Assn. AIIMS v. All India Institute of Medical Sciences, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 681 directed that a roster point-based reservation for preferential candidates as followed by Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) shall be implemented in all the AIIMS institutes.

Regarding Judiciary -Tribunals and Contempt of Court

In the landmark decision of Madras Bar Assn. v. Union of India, (2021) 7 SCC 369

The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat issued extensive directions in relating to selection, appointment, tenure, conditions of service, etc. relating to various tribunals, 19 in number, thereby calling for certain modifications to the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities [Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service of Members] Rules, 2020. In Het Ram Beniwal v. Raghuveer Singh, (2017) 4 SCC 340, the bench of L.N. Rao and Anil Dave, JJ., dealt with a matter of criminal contempt of court, wherein an attempt was made to scandalise the authority of court via allegations of bias and corruption. It was held that Judges need not be protected since they can take care of themselves but it is the right and interest of public in due administration of justice which must be protected. “Vilification of Judges leads to destruction of system of administration of justice. Thus, statements made by appellants accusing Judges of corruption results in denigration of institution which has effect of lowering confidence of public in system of administration of justice, were not only derogatory but had propensity to lower authority of court.”

Regarding Practice and Procedure and Disposal of Cases

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 S.A. Bobde, CJ., and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhatt, JJ., via Criminal Trials Guidelines Regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies, In re, (2021) 10 SCC 598, 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. Similarly, when it was noticed 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 comprising of S.A. Bobde, C.J. and L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai, A.S. Bopanna and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., via Expeditious Trial of Cases Under Section 138 of N.I. Act 1881, In re, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 325  directed the High Courts to issue practice directions to the Magistrates for recording cogent and sufficient reasons while doing so.

Sex Workers’ Right to Dignity

In a significant decision, the 3-judge Bench comprising of L. Nageswara Rao, B. R. Gavai and A.S. Bopanna, JJ., in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of W.B., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 704, upheld sex workers right to identity and issued detailed directions for their protection and upliftment. The directions ranged from prohibiting police actions against consenting sex workers, police and medical protections for sex workers being victim of sexual assault, holding media accountable for voyeurism on revealing identity of sex workers to directing UIDAI to issue Aadhar Card for them without insisting on address proof.

Regarding Democracy, Constitutional and Electoral Processes

In several important judgments, Justice L.N. Rao upheld the constitutional essentialities and reprimanded corrupt practices that subvert the democratic process. Like in Krishna Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, (2017) 3 SCC 1, stating that re-promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes, the 7-judge bench held that the Ordinance making power does not constitute the President or the Governor into a parallel source of law making or an independent legislative authority. The principles for promulgation of ordinances were thus laid down in this case. Likewise, in Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen (2017) 2 SCC 629, the 7- Judge Bench of the Court with a ratio of 4: 3 severely reprimanded the practice of electoral appeal on the basis of caste, religion, race and community. The Court held that such an appeal 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 voters’. Justice Rao joined T.S. Thakur, CJ., and Madan B. Lokur, and S.A. Bobde, JJ., to give the majority ruling in the 4:3 verdict, while Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Adarsh K. Goel and U.U. Lalit, JJ., dissented.

Covid-19, Vaccines and Other related matters

The onset of Covid-19 pandemic meant that the judiciary had to face new challenges and issues. Benches led by Justice L.N. Rao provided the requisite guidance in such unprecedented circumstances. In Jacob Puliyel v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 533, a matter related to COVID-19 vaccination drive; the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai, JJ., held that bodily integrity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and no individual can be forced to be vaccinated.

In Distribution of Essential Supplies & Services during Pandemic, In re, (2021) 7 SCC 772, the 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., expressed serious concerns on the ability of the marginalized members of society between the ages of 18-44 years to avail COVID-19 vaccination, exclusively through a digital portal in the face of a digital divide. The Court also sought to understand the Government’s vaccination policy in light of the raging Delta wave in 2021 and noted that, “A vaccination policy exclusively relying on a digital portal for vaccinating a significant population of this country between the ages of 18-44 years would be unable to meet its target of universal immunization owing to such a digital divide. It is the marginalized sections of society who would bear the brunt of this accessibility barrier. This could have serious implications on the fundamental right to equality and the right to health of persons within the above age group.

Not only the vaccination policy, the 3- Judge Bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., even took suo moto notice under Art. 32 of the Constitution regarding the issues surrounding the availability of essential medical supplies during the height of Covid-19 in 2021. The Court in Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic, In re, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 372 observed that in a time of national crisis, such as the one which is confronting the nation as a consequence of the pandemic, the Supreme Court cannot stand silent as a mute spectator. The court has a constitutional duty to protect the fundamental rights traceable to Part III of the Constitution.

Free Speech

For any thriving democracy, protection of free speech is sacrosanct. The judicial system acts as a protector of this very essentiality. In Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 258, the bench of L.N. Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., quashed the criminal case registered against Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim under Sections 153 A, 500 and 505 (1) (c) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and observed that, “Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases, unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order.”

Regarding entry of women in Temples and Dargahs   

In Kantaru Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Assn, (2020) 3 SCC 52, the 9-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ, hearing the Sabarimala reference, held that the Supreme Court can refer questions of law to a larger bench while exercising its review jurisdiction, after renowned jurist and senior advocate Fali Nariman objected to the manner in which the Supreme Court turned a review of the Sabarimala case into an opportunity to set up a nine-judge Bench and examine whether certain essential religious practices of various faiths, including Islam and Zoroastrianism, should be constitutionally protected. Likewise in Haji Ali Dargah Trust v. Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz, (2016) 16 SCC 788, the 3-Judge Bench of T. S. Thakur, C.J.  and D. Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ., gave the Haji Ali Dargah Trust two weeks’ time to restore status-quo ante in regard to women pilgrims entering the sanctum sanctorum at par with men said that in case there is any default or neglect on the part of the Trust in complying with the direction of the Bombay High Court, the respondents-writ petitioners shall be free to approach the High Court for appropriate redress in the matter.

Matrimonial disputes

Dealing with the case where a husband had sought divorce from his wife on the ground that she was forcing him to leave his parents as he was providing them financial support, the Court in Narendra v. K. Meena, (2016) 9 SCC 455 said that in a Hindu society, it is a pious obligation of the son to maintain the parents. The Bench of A.R. Dave and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ., added that no son would like to be separated from his old parents and other family members, who are also dependent upon his income, the Court also said that the persistent effort of the wife to constrain the husband to be separated from the family would be torturous for the husband and will constitute as an act of ‘cruelty’. In Rupali Devi. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2019) 5 SCC 384, the 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ., and L. Nageswara Rao and SK Kaul, JJ., held that a woman driven out of matrimonial home can file case under Section 498-A from the place she has taken shelter at. The bench said, “The courts at the place where the wife takes shelter after leaving or driven away from the matrimonial home on account of acts of cruelty committed by the husband or his relatives, would, dependent on the factual situation, also have jurisdiction to entertain a complaint alleging commission of offences under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code.”


♦Man of many talents! Justice Nageswara is also a golfer and an avid biker.[14]

With great power, comes great responsibility” and if the responsibilities are performed with diligence and dedication, then it leaves behind a Legacy. From his enrolment in 1982 till his retirement as a SC Judge, Justice Nageswara has contributed immensely in enriching the law and its interpretations. In the recently held Farewell Function[15] organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association, the fellow Judges and lawyers were all praise for Justice L.N. Rao’s simplicity, hard work and gentle demeanour.

With another phase of his legal career is set to end; there is truly no end in sight for Justice Rao, because after retirement, he will be heading India’s first International Arbitration and Mediation Centre which was recently inaugurated at Hyderabad[16].

As I stated earlier, Farewells are about reminiscing the legacy left behind with a hope for a new eventful chapter. Justice Lavu Nageswara Rao’s legacy has been well established with his legal practice, judgments and overall conduct with his peers and juniors. Now we look forward to the next stage of his journey to demystify the law because when it comes to Law, “The road goes ever on and on!”.[17]

†Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

[1] Chief Justice and Judges, Supreme Court of India.

[2] Supreme Court Judges crush Advocates in a game of Cricket, Latest Laws [dot] com

[3] Justice L.N. Rao- A star in real and reel life, The Hindu

[4] Justice L. Nageswara Rao, Supreme Court Observer

[5] Chief Justice and Judges, Supreme Court of India.

[6] Meet Justice L.N. Rao, Live Mint

[7] Justice L. Nageswara Rao , Supreme Court Observer

[8] L Nageswara Rao recommended for the post of SC judge, Indian Express

[9] Chief Justice and Judges, Supreme Court of India.

[10] Justice L. Nageswara Rao , Supreme Court Observer

[11] https://www.scconline.com

[12] Emerging trends in judgment writing introduced by Justice L Nageswara Rao, The Siasat Daily

[13] Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Suppl. (3) SCC 217

[14] Justice L. Nageswara- A star in reel and real life

[15] Justice L. Nageswara Rao- Spotlight, by Aamir Khan for Bar and the Bench

[16] India’s first International Arbitration and Mediation Centre opens , Business Standard News

[17] Quote by Bilbo Baggins, “The Fellowship of the Ring“, by JRR Tolkien

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.