The outgoing Chief Justice U.U. Lalit’s last day started with the pronouncement of the judgment in the EWS quota case, and ended with a ceremonial hearing, with his family and senior advocates present.
“THAT puts an end to everything before me“, said the retiring Chief Justice of India (‘CJI’) U.U. Lalit as he cleared all the cases before him and presided over Court Room No. 1 for the last time. The court stenographer then handed him a giant greeting card signed by members of the Bar. “Arrey baap re!“, exclaimed Chief Justice Lalit as he accepted the card.
Chief Justice Lalit’s last day as a judge of the Supreme Court started with thepronouncement of the judgment in the Economically Weaker Section quota case. “We have four judgments to be delivered in this matter“, he announced at the outset, and invited Justice Dinesh Maheshwari to read out his decision. Justice Maheshwai upheld the103rd Amendment to the Constitution, which was followed by separate but concurring judgments by Justices Bela M. Trivedi and J.B. Pardiwala.
With three out of five judges on the Constitution bench confirming the amendment, it was clear that its constitutional validity had been upheld. Yet, Justice Lalit had kept the Bar, and anyone else following the livestream of the proceedings, guessing on the side he would take.
Then came Justice S. Ravindra Bhat’s dissenting judgment. Soon after, it was made clear that Chief Justice Lalit too had dissented with the majority. “I have concurred with the view taken by Justice Bhat in its entirety“, he declared.
Chief Justice Lalit, who became the 49th CJI in late August this year, had a brief tenure of 74 days. He will be succeeded by CJI-Designate Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, who will officially take over at the Supreme Court on November 9, and will have a term of two years and two days.
As is the convention, the outgoing CJI presided over a ceremonial hearing on Monday as members of the Bar bid him farewell. The hearing, which also had his successor Justice Dr. Chandrachud and Justice Bela Trivedi, was conducted post-lunch, after the outgoing CJI heard the last remaining matters in quick succession and cleared the board in his court. Members of Justice Lalit’s family were also present in the courtroom while various senior advocates praised his tenure.
“Your lordship is leaving without leaving.” Attorney-General for India, R. Venkatramani said. “I’m sure I’ll write a poem one of these days about this”, he ended by saying.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, noted that Chief Justice Lalit has assumed many roles over his long career and hence “he knew the problems of the entire Bar…I hope your lordship gets a lot of time to travel with his family“, Singh said.
Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta said that the outgoing Chief Justice Lalit had had a long and successful career as a lawyer, and then an equally successful tenure as a judge. “Senior Mr. Lalit must be the proudest person today“, he remarked.
Senior advocate and constitutional lawyer K.K. Venugopal said that until Chief Justice Lalit took over, “never before” had there been a scenario with four simultaneous constitutional benches hearing matters of public interest. He also said that he had been pushing for a higher retirement age for judges for a while, but it had been to no avail.
“You are an epitome of sobriety in the face of extreme provocation. You made each day of your tenure count and will be remembered for years to come“, said Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi. He also hoped that CJI Lalit “gets some leisure, which is the only thing you had in short supply“.
Justice Dr. Chandrachud began his tribute by noting,”We have in our midst three generations of the Lalit family“. He added, “CJI Lalit has the unique distinction of first being called to the Senior Advocateship by the court and then becoming a Chief Justice.”
Justice Dr. Chandrachud also said, “One thing which I was always struck by was the Chief Justice’s sobriety, his balance and his nuanced understanding of not only the law but of Indian social life. I believe this added to the stability of the court.”
Chief Justice Lalit thanked the Bar for its words as he rose for the last time, leaving his chair to the incoming CJI-Designate, Justice Dr. Chandrachud.