Former chief justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sachar’s passing leaves a big void in Indian judiciary

The legal fraternity has suffered an irreparable loss with the demise of Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, on Friday (April 20) at the age of 94 years. Justice Sachar served as the chief justice of Delhi High Court from August 1985 to December 1985.

Justice Sachar began his career as an advocate in April 1952, and began practicing in the Supreme Court of India from in 1960. A decade later, he was appointed an additional judge of the Delhi high court. After being confirmed as a permanent judge in July 1972, Justice Sachar was appointed chief justice in August 1985. In his career, Justice Sachar also served as the acting chief justice of the Sikkim High Court, and Judge of the Rajasthan High Court.

Not only was Justice Sachar known for his exemplary work as a lawyer and judge, but also as a activist of human rights who had supported movements such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan, right to information and right to food, among others. His activism shone through the cases he took up.

In the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India he represented People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 2003 where he argued before the Supreme Court that the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) should be quashed on the basis of violation of fundamental rights.

On 24 November 2002 the police arrested twenty six people in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, and on 10 January 2003 they were placed under POTA by the government on the grounds that they were members of the Radical Youth League of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). Justice Sachar led a team of human rights activists who visited them in jail on 15 September 2004 and persuaded them to end the hunger strike.

He also appeared on behalf of petitioners in the case of Kuldip Nayar v Union of India where petitioners challenged the amendments in the Representation of People Act, 1951, which deleted the requirement of ‘domicile’ in the State concerned for getting elected to the Council of States.

During the tenure of the Manmohan Singh led UPA government in 2005, he led a seven-member committee to examine the social, educational and economic status of Muslims in India. The reported that was thereby formulated on the condition of Muslims in India, known as the Sachar Committee Report, triggered a public discourse on the inequalities faced by the community in the country. The committee gave recommendations on how to remove obstacles obstructing people from the minority community to participate in the economic, social and political development.

Justice Sachar was vocal about his activism for civil liberties and was one of the authors of “Report on Kashmir situation” in 1990, when the militancy was at its peak in the state. He was appointed to an advisory committee chaired by Chief Justice Aziz Mushabber Ahmadi to review the Protection of Human Rights Act and determine whether rapid changes and amendments were needed. The committee which submitted its report in 2000 recommended changes to the membership of the National Human Rights Commission, changes to procedures to reduce delays in following up recommendations and a broadening of the commission’s scope.

He was also the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, and a member of the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. In its report issued in March 2000 the mission found that the Kenyan government failed to meet its international obligations regarding protection of its citizens housing rights.

Kavita Srivastava, general secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), on working closely with Justice Sachar said, “Justice Sachar was one of the stalwarts of human rights activism in South Asia, not just India. After he retired as the chief justice of the Delhi High Court, he plunged into human rights work which he continued till his last breath. He actively worked for the repealment of draconian laws like Prevention of Terrorism Act, Child Status Protection Act. He also worked on India-Pakistan peace, human rights in the Kashmir valley, against the sedition law amongst the thousands of campaigns undertaken by the PUCL and the Human Rights groups

Justice Sachar of late had voiced his concern regarding the independence of judiciary. In a recent article in the Invisible Lawyer, wrote about how the Collegium decision of not appointing Justice Jayant Patel as permanent Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court was rather telling of interference of Executive in the Judiciary. (Read the article here.)