Justice Sanjib Banerjee, a distinguished figure in the Indian legal landscape, was born on 02-11-1961. His journey from a student in Calcutta to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Meghalaya is nothing short of remarkable. His illustrious career in law has been marked by dedication, expertise, and a profound commitment to justice. With a legal career spanning over 3 decades, Justice Banerjee is set to retire on 01-11-2023 after an extensive tenure of 17 years as a Judge which also includes his tenure as the former Chief Justice of High Court of Madras and former Judge of High Court at Calcutta.
Early Life and Education
Justice Sanjib Banerjee’s educational journey began at St. Xavier’s Collegiate School in Calcutta, where he laid the foundation for his academic excellence. He further honed his intellect at St. Paul’s School in Darjeeling, known for its academic rigor and holistic development.1
Justice Banerjee’s pursuit of higher education led him to the University of Calcutta, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Economics in 1983. This academic feat laid the groundwork for his legal career. In 1986-87, Justice Banerjee obtained his LL.B. degree from the same prestigious university.2
Entering the Legal Arena
On 21-11-1990, Justice Banerjee was enrolled as an Advocate, officially embarking on his legal career. He chose to practice law, primarily focusing on the High Court at Calcutta, the Supreme Court of India, and various other High Courts and Tribunals across the country. His legal expertise covered a wide spectrum, including Civil, Company, Arbitration, and Constitutional Law branches.3
Justice Banerjee soon specialized in Corporate and Intellectual Property Laws matters, demonstrating a deep understanding of the intricate legal framework governing business and intellectual property rights.4
Elevation to the Bench
22-06-2006 marked a significant turning point in Justice Sanjib Banerjee’s career as he was elevated from bar to the Bench of the High Court at Calcutta as a Permanent Judge.5 Throughout his tenure as a Judge, Justice Banerjee delivered judgments in a wide range of cases, encompassing almost all branches of law. His work included handling important public interest litigations, where his decisions often had far-reaching implications for society and governance.
Chief Justice Appointments
Justice Banerjee’s excellence in jurisprudence was recognized at the highest level when he was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court by a notification from the Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, on 04-01-2021.6 His role as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court represented a momentous responsibility especially due to COVID-19, with the potential to influence and shape legal precedent in one of India’s most prominent states. Under his leadership, the Madras High Court benefited from his extensive legal knowledge and visionary approach.
In a further testament to his capability, Justice Banerjee was transferred and took the oath as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Meghalaya on 24-11-2021.7 His new role in Meghalaya marked a continuation of his impressive legal career and an opportunity to contribute to justice and jurisprudence in the Northeastern part of India.
Notable Judgments by Justice Sanjib Banerjee
In a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) initiated pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court in Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, In re, (2017) 10 SCC 658, wherein the Chief Justices of the High Courts were directed to register a suo motu public interest petition to identify the next of kin of the prisoners who died an unnatural death as revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau (‘NCRB’) during the period between 2012 and 2015 and even thereafter, and award suitable compensation, unless adequate compensation had already been awarded, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee,* C.J. and H. S. Thangkhiew, J. fixed the amount of compensation on the basis of age of the deceased prisoner.
“There is no room to apply the strict liability theory when it comes to a death of a person in the custody of the State. The State’s liability in such regard is absolute and unless it demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Court that the death was due to natural causes, the Court may reasonably infer otherwise and hold the State liable. The State ought also to be liable for the actions of its officers and employees.”
[Suo Motu Custodial Violence v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 507]
In a PIL pertaining to the enforcement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 (‘the Rules’) in the State of Meghalaya, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, C.J. and B. Bhattacharjee, J. directed the State to indicate the measures taken for setting up local bodies in terms of the said Rules.
The Court noted that the entire object and purpose of the said petition was for animals which are culled for their meat to be treated more ethically, for the wanton display of animal carcases to be avoided and for a more hygienic and caring attitude to be taken towards the animals and therefore, directed the State to indicate the measures taken for setting up local bodies in terms of the said Rules. The Court also said that despite the State lags in several other fields, considering the natural beauty that the State has been bestowed with, the State may consider being the model State in the Country regarding the ethical treatment of animals.
[Bakul Narzary v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 432]
In a PIL petition filed against the rampant power cuts and arbitrary load-shedding resorted to by the State of Meghalaya, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J., said that the 50-60 percent shortfall in supply of electricity was unacceptable in this day and age where both business and domestic life almost come to a standstill without the availability of electricity.
[Flaming B. Marak v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 346]
In a civil writ petition filed by an employee (petitioner) in the Military Engineer Services against her transfer order on the grounds that she has two minor children, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee*, CJ. and W. Diengdoh, J., dismissed the petition and said that there was no merit in the petition and no cogent grounds to resist the order of transfer were made out.
[Reena Sohphoh v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 333]
In a PIL filed by Advocate A.H. Hazarika against delayed repair and construction of the Agia-Medhipara-Phulbari-Tura (AMPT) Road, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J., said that the AMPT Road is an arterial road of great importance and thus the road should be in top condition without excuses such as rain to explain away its pitiable condition.
The Court also expressed its concern about the same excuse of rain being given by the State to justify the poor conditions of some of the roads, despite it being well known that Meghalaya is one of the wettest places in the world.
[A.H. Hazarika v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 370]
In the appeals filed against the Judgment and order passed by Income-Tax Appellate Tribunal wherein, the Tribunal found that the law laid down in Commissioner of Income-Tax v. Mahari and Sons, 1991 SCC OnLine Gau 85 (‘Mahari and Sons’) was no longer good, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee*, C.J. and W. Diengdoh, J., did not express any final opinion on the primary legal issue- that whether the ratio decidendi in the Mahari and Sons (supra) would be applicable in the present matters. The Bench had decided to remand the matter before the Appellate Tribunal and directed the President, Income Tax Appellate Tribunal to constitute a special Bench for afresh consideration of the matter.
“When Constitutional Courts take up challenges to orders passed by a specialised tribunal, such courts have to tread with extreme care and caution. A body that deals with a particular type of matters on an everyday basis would be expected to have greater command over the law applicable in the field and a Constitutional Court would not interfere with a view expressed on interpretation unless it appears to be grossly inappropriate and almost outlandish.”
[Ri Kynjai Serenity & Hotel Centre Point v. CIT, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 342]
In a PIL wherein the petitioner sought Orders to prevent the illegal coal mining and the transportation of the illegally mined coal in the State of Meghalaya (‘State’) from the State of Assam, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, C.J. and W. Diengdoh, J. reprimanded the State for not taking any steps to prevent the illegal coal mining and said that the kingpin was an instrumentality of the State and was aided and abetted by the State to finance the business of illegal mining of coal.
[Champer M. Sangma v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 267]
In a PIL regarding the cleaning of Umiam Lake, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J. directed the State to take measures to protect and conserve all the waterbodies in the State. The Court also directed the State and local authorities to not allow any constructions within 50 meters of the high-water mark of the waterbody without the express previous leave of the Court.
[In re: Cleanliness of Umiam Lake v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 259]
In suo motu proceedings initiated by the Court against the illegal mining and transportation of coal in the State, the three Judge Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ, H.S. Thangkhiew and W. Diengdoh, JJ., reprimanded the respondent State for its lacking in controlling the illegal mining operations in the State and directed the respondent State to indicate the person behind the illegal coke plants within the period of four weeks.
[Shailendra Kumar Sharma v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 217]
While hearing a plea against the rampant power cuts and arbitrary load-shedding resorted to by the State of Meghalaya, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J., said that it is the State’s responsibility to ensure that there is adequate availability of electricity as per demand and plans should be in place to meet the increased future demands.
[Flaming B. Marak v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 219]
While hearing a petition pertaining to ethical treatment of animals that are culled for human consumption and the transportation of animals across the State, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee CJ.*, and W. Diengdoh, J., directed the State to completely prohibit the display of animal carcasses in meat shops.
[Gau Gyan Foundation v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 246]
While hearing a PIL, concerning the increase in traffic congestion in the Shillong city, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J., directed the State to file an affidavit, indicating their plans and goals to ease the traffic congestion in the city.
[Philip Khrawbok Shati v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 186]
In a criminal appeal challenging the order of conviction by the Trial Court, the Division Judge Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, C.J.* and W. Diengdoh, J., dismissed the appeal and upheld the order of conviction by the Trial Court under Section 376(2)(i) and (n) of Penal Code, 1860 along with Section 5 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and sentenced the appellant to 25 years of rigorous imprisonment with fine of Rs. 15 lakhs.
In the matter at hand, the victim, about 14 years of age at the time of incident left her home due to the parlous state of her home. An elderly lady lured her to leave home and brought her to Shillong and made her live with a Muslim family. During her stay with the family, she had her first menstrual periods and thereafter, she was taken by her foster parents to a guesthouse wherein she was intoxicated before her first forceful sexual encounter. The victim was taken to another hotel wherein the appellant raped her for the second time. Later, the victim left her foster parents’ home and with the help of two acquaintances she was put in touch with the State Child Welfare Committee Officials. The Trial Court convicted Julius under Section 376(2)(i) and (n) of IPC along with Section 5 of POCSO and was sentenced to 25 years of rigorous imprisonment with fine of Rs. 15 lakhs.
[Julius Kitbok Dorphang v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 161]
In an appeal challenging to the authority of the District and Sessions Judge of Meghalaya, who conducted the criminal trial and convicted the appellant and sentenced him to life imprisonment, to adjudicate the matter, a division judge bench of Sanjib Banerjee, C.J.* and W. Diengdoh, J. held that once the authority in terms of paragraph 5(1) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution is conferred on a Court or an officer, the Governor has residuary power to carve out a part of the authority already conferred and vest the same in some other Court or officer. Thus, the office of the District and Sessions Judge, as specified in the Meghalaya Judicial Service Rules, 2006 is vested with the power to try the case involving a death sentence. Therefore, it upheld the judgment of conviction and the sentence of life imprisonment awarded by the Trial Court The appellant questioned the notification dated 29-05-2014 issued under the orders of the Governor on the ground that the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 has not been notified in the State, thus, there could have been no Sessions Division in terms of Section 9 of the CrPC.
[Komerchand Sing Wanrieh v. State of Meghalaya, 2023 SCC OnLine Megh 51]
In a criminal appeal filed by the convict/appellant, convicted under Section 5(m) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000/-, the division bench of Sanjib Banerjee, C.J.*, and W. Diengdoh J., held that the lower Court was justified in arriving at the conclusion that it was established beyond reasonable doubt that the petitioner had sexually assaulted the minor survivor. Further, the appeal had no merit and no cause for interference with either the judgment of conviction or the consequent sentence that was awarded.
[Swill Lhuid v. State of Meghalaya, 2022 SCC OnLine Megh 557]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ., and W. Diengdoh, J. was alarmed by the present criminal appeal due to the nature of the case and sets aside the conviction of the appellant for being a person of unsound mind and was convicted in a triple murder case.
“Till such time that the legal education system is strengthened and burgeoning cattle-shed law colleges are arrested from unleashing completely untrained personnel to be qualified to obtain license for practice, even as the statutory watchdog plays the fiddle, a strict vigil must be maintained on the appointment of legal aid counsel so that the colossal disservice that was done to the appellant in this case, instead of rendering any assistance, is not repeated.”
[Bremingstar Mylliem v. State of Meghalaya, 2022 SCC OnLine Megh 431]
The Division Bench comprising of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and W. Diengdoh, J., while deciding an appeal by appellant regarding unfair rejection in the interview for the post of driver in the Directorate of Soil and Water Conservation expressed their concern over ‘Favouritism’ and ‘Nepotism’ affecting government’s recruitment drives.
[Pynskhemlang Nongrang v. Directorate of Soil & Water Conservation, 2022 SCC OnLine Megh 477]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and P.D. Audikesavalu, J. while addressing the contempt petition, expressed that, merely because the immediate lis pertains to the contempt jurisdiction would not imply that this court sheds its plenary authority under Article 226 of the Constitution while considering the manner of implementation of the said order. Rather than the caste system being wiped away, the present trend seems to perpetuate it by endlessly extending a measure that was to remain only for a short duration to cover the infancy and, possibly, the adolescence of the Republic. Though the life of a nation state may not be relatable to the human process of aging, but at over-70, it ought, probably, to be more mature.
[Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam v. Rajesh Bhushan, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 4851]
Note: The above-mentioned judgment was partly overruled in Neil Aurelio Nunes (OBC Reservation) v. Union of India, (2022) 4 SCC 1; Neil Aurelio Nunes (EWS Reservation) v. Union of India, (2022) 4 SCC 64.
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthil Kumar Ramamoorthy, J. struck down the impugned Part II of the Tamil Nadu Gaming and Police Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 (Act 1 of 2021), in its entirety and further declared it to be ultra vires the Constitution. And with an absolute intention to strike down the impugned law the Court stated,
“The wording of the amending Act is so crass and overbearing that it smacks of unreasonableness in it’s every clause and can be seen to be manifestly arbitrary. Whatever may have been the pious intention of the legislature, the reading of the impugned statute and how it may operate amounts to a baby being thrown out with the bathwater and more. And, irrespective of the noblest of intentions, the effect of the provisions of the impugned statute is the primary consideration for assessing the validity thereof”
[Rahul Nandkumar Bhardwaj v. State of T.N., 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 2762]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., while addressing a matter with respect to menace being caused due to online games expressed its opinion whether the Court can ban the same or not. The Court opined that even constitutional courts should be slow in entering into such areas and dealing with such matters on the personal sense of morality of the individual complainant or the Judge or Judges concerned.
“There is no doubt that when there is some illegal action or something which is detrimental to larger public interest, constitutional courts intervene; but in the matters of the present kind, especially when elected governments are in place, such matters of policy should be left to the wisdom of those representing the people and having their mandate instead of the Court issuing a diktat.”
[E. Martin Jayakumar v. Government of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 2335]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., expressed that vaccinating oneself may not only be to protect oneself but also in the larger interest of public health. The Court opined that when a larger interest of public health comes into play, it is possible that a person who has not taken the vaccine may not reveal the symptoms but still be a silent carrier, it is doubtful whether in such circumstances the right to refuse vaccine can be exercised.
[M. Karpagam v. Commissionerate for the Welfare of Differently Abled, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 2592]
While deciding a petition pertaining to the counting of votes at a solitary assembly constituency during CIVID19, the Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., while noting the upsurge of COVID-19, stated that “Public health is of paramount importance and it is distressing that Constitutional authorities have to be reminded in such regard. It is only when the citizen survives that he enjoys the other rights that this democratic republic guarantees unto him. The situation is now one of survival and protection and, everything else comes thereafter.”
[M.R. Vijayabhaskar v. Chief Election Commissioner, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1750]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., addressed an issue wherein the association of fishermen sought compensation and jobs for the family of deceased fishermen who were recently killed by an attack apparently at the hands of the Sri Lankan navy.
“There should be no duplication of job opportunities, but the appropriate departments of the State and the Centre may coordinate and provide adequate compensation in the wake of the untimely deaths of the four fishermen.”
[Fisherman Care v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1291]
In a matte where the petitioner sought prohibition on Ministers and the like from campaigning in the elections as they hold public offices, draw a salary from the government and were in a position to exert undue influence, he Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., expressed that “Election Commission has sufficient authority to put checks and balances in place that allow a Minister or the like to enjoy the status yet not spend official funds for campaigning or election purposes.”
[Ahimsa Socialist Party v. Chief Election Commissioner, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1174]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., while addressing a riveting issue wherein a political party challenged Section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the corresponding rules to facilitate postal ballots for absentee voters including senior citizens of above 80 years, persons with disabilities, COVID-19 affected/ suspected and persons employed in essential services, held that “clause (c) is eminently compatible with the company that it keeps in Section 60 of the Act of 1951 without betraying any sign of incongruity.”
[Dravida Munnetara Kazhagam v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1100]
The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ* and SenthilKumar Ramamoorthy, J., addressed the concern with regard to the quality of education being compromised in law colleges due to the increasing number of law colleges being opened up. The Court Bench expressed that the matter needs to be looked into, in-depth, by the Bar Council and possible orders have to be sought at an all India Level to ensure that the quality is not compromised in course of more law colleges being born in the guise of opportunities being created.
[M.D. Ashok v. T.N. State Govt., 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1289]
A Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee and Moushumi Bhattacharya, JJ., while addressing the matter wherein private unaided schools have debarred students from taking online course and examinations due to shortfall in payment of fees directed the schools to not to discontinue the same for the said students unconditionally till 15th August, 2020. Petitioner represents the parents of over 15,000 students enrolled in more than 110 private unaided schools in and around the city.
[Vineet Ruia v. State of W.B., 2020 SCC OnLine Cal 1230]
A Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee and Suvra Ghosh, JJ. allowed the appeal filed by two persons who were convicted by the trial court for offence of waging war against the Government of India and set aside the judgment on the grounds of absence of a link between accused and alleged charges.
The Court opined that it was trite law that the burden of proving a charge against an accused lied solely upon the prosecution and the prosecution was required to bring evidence which should be cogent, compact, believable and trustworthy as to become incompatible with the innocence of the accused. It was also opined that the trial court had failed to appreciate the evidence in the proper perspective and missed the salient point that the link between the appellants and the incriminating material produced by the prosecution was non-existent.
[Patit Paban Halder v. State of W.B., 2019 SCC OnLine Cal 2162]
A Division Bench comprising of Sanjib Banerjee and Abhijit Gangopadhyay, JJ., held that the subsidy allowed by the State Government on account of power consumption to new or expanding industrial units was a capital receipt. The subsidy as referred to above was granted to business units and the question was whether such subsidy is to be regarded as a capital receipt or revenue receipt.
[CIT v. Shyam Steel Industries Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine Cal 2057]
An appeal was decided by a Division Bench comprising of Sanjib Banerjee and Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, JJ., wherein the order of the Arbitration Court refusing to entertain a challenge to an arbitral award was upheld.
The Court observed that in view of the mandate in Section 42, once a petition under Part-I of the Act pertaining to an arbitration agreement is carried to a particular court and such court entertains it and there is no objection as to its jurisdiction, all subsequent petitions under Part—I of the Act of 1996 pertaining to the same arbitration agreement have to be carried only to such court. The Court also observed that Section 42 covers not only particular arbitral reference, but the arbitration agreement itself. Further, Sections 8 and 11 of the Act are beyond the purview of Section 42.
[Dalim Kumar Chakraborty v. Gouri Biswas, 2018 SCC OnLine Cal 282]
A civil petition was decided by a Single Judge Bench comprising of Sanjib Banerjee, J*., wherein the orders of the lower appellate court and the trial court insofar as they refused to grant injunction in respect of Schedule C properties to the plaint, were set aside. The Court opined that it was inconceivable that only because a property was not situated within the jurisdiction of a particular court, the court refused to grant an injunction in respect thereof.
[Reba Rani Bal v. Malay Krishna Bal, 2018 SCC OnLine Cal 143]
A Single Judge Bench comprising of Sanjib Banerjee, J.*, decided a petition wherein it was held that a stranger claiming to be a co-sharer in the suit property was not entitled to be impleaded as a co-plaintiff when the original plaintiff opposes such inclusion. The Court opined that it was always open to the petitioner to oppose or embrace the said stranger as a co-sharer. Once the petitioner opposed the alleged co-sharer, the alleged co-sharer was not entitled to jump in as a co-plaintiff and the trial court was completely wrong in adding the alleged co-sharer as an added plaintiff.
[Rajendra Yadav v. Arati Plastic, 2018 SCC OnLine Cal 10]
Justice Sanjib Banerjee’s journey from his early education in Calcutta to his esteemed position as Chief Justice has been a testament to his dedication and commitment to the law. His legal expertise has covered a wide array of areas, from corporate law to intellectual property, making him a well-rounded jurist. His contributions to the legal field have left an indelible mark, and his journey continues to inspire budding lawyers and legal enthusiasts across the nation. Justice Banerjee’s legacy is a shining example of the profound impact one individual can have on the legal landscape of a nation.
*Judge who has penned the judgment.