Justice Ashish Jitendra Desai, 38th Chief Justice of Kerala High Court bids farewell

Justice Ashish Jitendra Desai

“By integrating human rights education into both family life and formal education, we can cultivate a culture where respecting and upholding human rights becomes second nature to the younger generation, laying a strong foundation for a more just and compassionate society.”1

– Justice Ashish J. Desai

Justice Ashish J. Desai was born on 05-07-1962, in the vibrant city of Vadodara, into a family deeply rooted in the world of law.2 Before his elevation as Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, he was Acting Chief Judge of Gujarat High Court.

Early Life and Education

Justice A.J. Desai’s upbringing was infused with the essence of law, owing to his familial background. His father, late Justice Jitendra P. Desai, was a distinguished Judge of the Gujarat 3

He commenced his academic journey at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in 1982. Displaying an unyielding commitment to his legal aspirations, he then obtained his Law Degree from Sir L.A. Shah Law College, Ahmedabad, in 1985 and later enrolled as an Advocate with the Bar Council of Gujarat on 27-11-1985.4

Legal Career

Justice Ashish Jitendra Desai’s legal career began under the tutelage of Advocates M.C. Bhatt and Daksha M. Bhatt.5 His initial practice took root at the City Civil and Sessions Court in Ahmedabad, where he honed his skills as a lawyer. He transitioned to the High Court of Gujarat in 1991, marking a significant milestone in his career.6

Justice Desai was appointed as the Assistant Government Pleader in 1994. He also assumed the position of Additional Public Prosecutor in 1995. He was appointed as the Central Government Standing Counsel from 2006 to 2009. He served on the panel of esteemed organizations such as the Gujarat Electricity Board and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, further solidifying his reputation as a legal authority with diverse expertise.7

*Did You Know? As Acting Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court, Justice Desai created history in the National Lok Adalat organized on 13-05-2023 wherein record breaking 3.90 lakhs cases were disposed of under his guidance.8

Contribution to Public Service

In his capacity as the Executive Chairman/Patron-in-Chief of the Gujarat State Legal Services Authority, Justice Desai spearheaded a multitude of legal service initiatives that brought significant positive changes to the state’s legal landscape. Among these pioneering endeavors was the establishment of 24-hour legal aid clinics in strategic locations like Daffnala and Shahibaug, Ahmedabad.

*Did You Know? Justice Desai’s visionary leadership as Patron-in-Chief of GSLSA led to the establishment of the Office of Legal Aid Defense Counsel in all 32 districts of Gujarat. This monumental achievement made Gujarat the 3rd State in India to accomplish such a comprehensive feat.9

Justice Desai also held the post of Patron-in-Chief of Gujarat State Judicial Academy and also headed various Committees constituted for the purpose of resolving administrative issues and was also the Chairman, I.T. Committee, where he has brought in a number of radical changes in the working of the judiciary at the District and State level.10

Career as a Judge

In recognition of his exceptional legal career, Justice Ashish J. Desai was elevated as an Additional Judge of the Gujarat High Court on 21-11-11 and was confirmed as a Permanent Judge on 06-09-12 securing his place among the esteemed judiciary of the state.

On 26-03-2023, Justice Desai was appointed as the Acting Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court13

Upon elevation of Justice S.V. Bhatti to the Supreme Court, the Collegium recommended the name of Justice A.J. Desai. The Ministry of Law and Justice accepted the recommendation and hence Justice Desai was appointed as the 38th Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.14 Justice Desai sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court on 22-07-2023.15

Notable Judgements of Kerala High Court and Gujarat High Court

In Nair Service Society v. T.K. Gopalakrishnan Nair, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 2291, an appeal challenging an interim order related to the listing of matters by the registry, the Division Bench of A.J. Desai*, C.J. and V.G. Arun, J., allowed the appeal while remarking that listing of matters should be done as per the roster, and any deviation therefrom would warrant strict disciplinary action against the registry.

“The Office is duty bound to list matters before the concerned Judge strictly as per the roster, unless otherwise ordered by the Chief Justice. Any deviation from this direction, thereby causing difficulty to the Hon’ble Judges or Advocates appearing in the matter, will invite disciplinary action against the officials concerned.”

In K. Santhosh Kumaran Thambi v. State of Kerala, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 2457, a writ petition seeking a mandamus or other appropriate writ directing the respondents to take action to widen the Western side of Enamkulangara junction for smooth flow of traffic, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ. and C. Pratheep Kumar, J., recognized the urgency and necessity of addressing the petitioner’s grievance and directed the respondent authorities to promptly consider the petitioner’s representations and take an appropriate decision.

In P.J. Joy v. Corporation of Kochi, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 1656, an appeal against the Corporation of Kochi’s refusal to issue the occupancy certificate despite submitting NOCs from the Fire Force Department and the Pollution Control Board and instead demanding property tax and a penalty under Section 242 of the Kerala Municipality Act, 1994, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., held that the Corporation cannot levy tax and penalty under Section 242 for unauthorized occupancy of a lawfully constructed building. The Court stated that the Corporation must proceed under Section 233 to levy property tax for the period of occupancy without an occupancy certificate.

In N. Prakash v. State of Kerala,16 a PIL seeking the issuance of hard copy of driving licence or registration certificate as the Transport Commissioner, Motor Vehicles Department is not issuing the same despite collecting printing and dispatching charges from applicants, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., closes the PIL after the Motor Vehicles Department clarified that the printing work has resumed from 01.04.2024 and Registration Certificates as well as Driving Licenses, were printed and been dispatched on the same day.

In State of Kerala v. Mary, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 869, an appeal filed by the State authorities challenging the Single Judge’s order which directed the appellant 2 to refer the issue relating to the adequacy of compensation granted to the petitioners to the civil court for adjudication under Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (the Act), a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., affirmed the Single Judge’s directive for the State to refer the compensation adequacy issue to the civil court, ensuring consistent treatment with previous similar cases. The Court also decided the issue of limitation period for requesting a reference under Section 18 of the Act and held that the limitation period for requesting a Section 18 reference begins after the resolution of ownership disputes under Section 30 of the Act.

In Meena v. Regional Transport Officer, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 744, an appeal against the Single Judge’s order dismissing the appellant’s writ petition seeking a writ of mandamus to direct the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to transfer the ownership of three heavy goods vehicles registered in her husband’s name to her, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., affirmed the appellant’s right under Rule 56 and held that outstanding dues and fines do not bar such transfers. The Court directed the RTO to transfer the ownership of the deceased’s vehicles to his widow-appellant,

In Bijo Jose v. State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 720, an appeal filed under Section 5 of the Kerala High Court Act, 1958, challenging the Single Judge’s judgment which dismissed the petition seeking a writ of mandamus, declaring that the respondent 5 is not entitled to conduct quarrying operation on the basis of the Environmental Clearance Certificate by the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority, Kerala (SEIAA) as the certificate should have been issued by the Central Government as per notification dated 14-03-2017 issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Union of India, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., upheld the SEIAA’s issuance of the Environmental Clearance Certificate because the notification dated 14-03-2017 was not applicable to the respondent 5’s application, as no illegal activities were ongoing when the application was made.

In Sunil Sradheyam v. Sujith Sreerengum, 2024 SCC OnLine Ker 721, an appeal challenging the Single Judge’s judgment which declared the appellant disqualified as a member of the Mannar Grama Panchayat, on the basis that the appellant’s actions amounted to voluntarily giving up membership of the political party under whose banner he contested the election, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., affirmed the disqualification of the appellant as a member of the Mannar Grama Panchayat under the Kerala Local Authorities (Prohibition of Defection) Act, 1999. The Court held that the appellant’s voting pattern and candidacy for Vice President, supported by opposition members, indicated a voluntary relinquishment of INC membership. The Court further held that the concept of voluntary giving up membership extends beyond formal resignation and includes conduct contrary to party interests.

“Even if there is no resignation, the appellant’s conduct can result him from becoming disqualified to continue as if he is no longer a member of the political party under whose banner he had contested and won the election.”

In Alfa One Global Builders (P) Ltd. v. Nirmala Padmanabhan, 2023 SCC OnLine Ker 10149, an appeal challenging the Single Judge’s judgment which refused to entertain the writ petition seeking to quash all proceedings on the files of Judicial First Class Magistrate Court – I, Chengannur, alleging that the Judicial Magistrate First Class lacks jurisdiction to entertain the complaint filed by respondent 3 and sought other consequential reliefs, a division bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* CJ., and V.G. Arun, J., dismissed the appeal on grounds of maintainability under Section 5 of the Kerala High Court Act and held that since the writ petition sought relief under Section 482 of CrPC for quashing of criminal proceedings, and not under Article 226 for exercise of original jurisdiction, the appeal under Section 5 of the Kerala High Court Act was not maintainable.

In Vijay Suklal More v. State of Gujarat, 2023 SCC OnLine Guj 1166, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, seeking a writ of mandamus to direct the State of Gujarat and Surat Municipal Corporation(‘respondents’) to rehabilitate and provide alternative accommodation to the slum dwellers, the Division Bench of A.J. Desai* and Biren Vaishnav, JJ., directed the respondents to rehabilitate the petitioners-Slum Dwellers under the Regulations for Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of the Slums, 2010 (‘the Scheme of 2010’).

In Vasantbhai Nathabhai Santoki v. Deputy Collector, 2018 SCC OnLine Guj 2338, a single judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai, J. denied a writ petition under Articles 14, 16, 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India on being devoid of merits and held that road which is being used since decades cannot be denied access to even if there is alternate route available.

In Prabhatji Sukhaji Dhabi v. State of Gujarat,17 a case where a murder convict was not released despite his case being eligible for remission of sentence and was detained on the grounds that he had jumped furlough once and had not surrendered to jail authorities, a single judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai, J., while observing “legitimate freedom cannot be equated with money” directed the State Government to pay a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to a murder criminal as the same was the only relief that could be granted against illegal incarceration.

“The lethargy shown by the State and its Officer has kept a person behind the bars for a period of around six months. These six months of illegal incarceration of the petitioner by State is, therefore, required to be dealt with. …The relief, now Court can grant for this illegal incarceration is only the compensation,”

In Niraj Devnarayan Shukla v. State of Gujarat, 2015 SCC OnLine Guj 6269, a 3-judge bench comprising of A.J. Desai,* A.G. Uraizee and K.J. Thaker, JJ., while relying on Supreme Court judgment in K.D. Panduranga v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 3 SCC 721, laid down the procedure which is required to be considered by the High Court while dealing with a conviction appeal wherein convict/advocate is/are not available.

While deciding a reference case where the accused whose successive bail application is pending before the High Court, files an application for releasing him on bail for a limited period, a 3-judge bench comprising of Akil Kureshi, J.B. Pardiwala and A.J. Desai,* JJ., in Abhijit Prabhakar Konduskar v. State of Gujarat, 2017 SCC OnLine Guj 2725, held that the criteria for considering an application for temporary bail and application for interim bail would be different as the application for interim bail is to be decided on merits after examining the evidence. The Court further held that:

“(i) If the application is filed by an accused for interim bail in a pending successive bail application, the same shall be listed before the Judge, who is in-charge of successive bail application.

(ii) If temporary bail application is filed during the pendency of a successive bail application, the same shall be placed before an appropriate Court, as per the roster.”

In an intra-court appeal challenging selling the properties in auction by the respondent-bank without following the procedure prescribed under the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Rules. 1965, a Division bench comprising of V.M. Sahai and A.J. Desai,* JJ., in Kalol Taluka Sales and Purchase Union Ltd. v. State of Gujarat, 2012 SCC OnLine Guj 6288, quashed and set aside the auction on palpable breach of Rule 119 of the Rules committed by the Bank.

“When the judgment debtor’s property is being auctioned, the intention of the statute is that the Officer who has been appointed as Recovery Officer, follow the procedure prescribed, in its stricto sensu manner. If the property gets the highest price which is under auction, the judgment debtor would be relieved from the maximum liability, which he owes to the judgment creditor. If any of the conditions is found to be breached by the Recovery Officer provided under Rule 119 of the said Rules, it is not merely an irregularity but the said sale becomes invalid.”

In Rathva Deepsingh Vithalbhai v. State of Gujarat, 2012 SCC OnLine Guj 6430, a case related to invitation of applications for opening of fair price shop at village Timbi for the residents of village Timbi as well as village Jivanpura, a Division bench of V.M. Sahai and A.J. Desai,* JJ., held that “the word ‘local resident’ used in Clause 5 and 7.3 of the Policy of the Government is required to be read in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case and in the present case when the two villages are clubbed together for allotment of fair price shop, resident of any of these two villages is to be held as a local resident of the village.”

In Binaben v. State of Gujarat, 2021 SCC OnLine Guj 658, an appeal preferred under Section 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, (CrPC), a Division bench comprising of A.J. Desai* and A.S. Supehia, JJ., held that even if the tower location of the mobile phones of the appellants was around the area of commission of crime but the Court cannot only rely upon such evidence, the accused cannot be held guilty in absence of any complete chain of circumstances.

Conclusion

In recognition of his leadership and judicial capabilities, Justice Desai was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, a role in which he continued to serve with distinction, upholding the principles of justice and the Rule of Law. His career reflected a remarkable journey of dedication, legal excellence, and a steadfast commitment to public service, honoring the legacy of his family’s judicial lineage while carving out his unique path in the Indian judiciary. As Justice Desai steps down, his legacy will be remembered and cherished by the legal fraternity and the public alike.

* Judge who has penned the judgment.


1. Many still unaware of basic rights: Kerala HC Chief Justice Ashish Jitendra Desai, The New Indian Express.

2. Present Judges, High Court of Kerala.

3. Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. J. Desai, High Court of Gujarat.

4. Supra

5. Supra

6. Reference Speech on appointment of Hon’ble Justice Shri.Ashish J.Desai, as Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, Kerala Law Times.

7. Supra

8. Reference Speech on appointment of Hon’ble Justice Shri. Ashish J. Desai, as Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court, Kerala Law Times.

9. Supra

10. Supra

11. https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/Collegium/05072023_175644.pdf

12. Hon’ble Mr. Justice A. J. Desai, High Court of Gujarat.

13. https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s35d6646aad9bcc0be55b2c82f69750387/uploads/2023/02/2023022423.pdf

14. President appoints new Chief Justices in Kerala, Allahabad, Orissa and Telangana High Court, SCC Times.

15. Present Judges, High Court of Kerala.

16. WP(C) NO. 5614 OF 2024, order dated 08-04-2024

17. SPECIAL CRIMINAL APPLICATION (DIRECTION) NO.2203 of 2017, order dated 18-07-2017.

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