Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who will demit office on October 2, 2018, has been a strong advocate of right to equality and dignity during his tumultuous 13-month tenure at the helm of the Supreme Court which saw some of the most momentous judgements and events, including the virtual revolt by four senior-most judges.
During his eight-year stint in the top court, Justice Misra penned or was part of a number of vital judgements including the recent verdicts on upholding constitutional validity of Aadhaar with some riders, decriminalising gay sex and adultery, allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala temple, Ayodhya verdict, the refusal to order release of five activists recently, declaration of criminal antecedents of candidates to Election Commission and giving a green signal to live streaming of court proceedings.
But the most trying time for Justice Misra as the 45th CJI was the unprecedented January 12 press conference by the four senior-most judges of the apex court. Justice (since retired) J Chelameswar, Justices Ranjan Gogoi, who is Misra’s successor, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph raised a litany of issues pertaining to the administration of the top court, including the allotment of sensitive cases.
Facing allegations, Justice Misra maintained a studied silence even as there was talk of impeachment in political circles.
“In my whole career as a judge, I never dissociated myself from the lady of equity,” the outgoing CJI said on Monday.
“History can be sometimes kind, and unkind. I don’t judge people by their history but by their activities, perspective,” he asserted.
Justice Misra, who was elevated to the apex court in October, 2011, also upheld two death sentences of 1993 Mumbai blasts’ sole death convict Yakub Memon and the capital punishment to the convicts in the sensational December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape-and-murder case.
In Memon’s case, the bench headed by Justice Misra brought the curtains down on last ditch attempts by Memon’s lawyers to stop the execution which was carried out at 7 am at Nagpur Central Jail. Memon’s lawyers had petitioned the then CJI H L Dattu after the apex court had upheld his death warrant and he constituted the same three-judge bench to hear the case during the pre-dawn hearing.
Observing that the right to free speech cannot mean that a citizen can defame anybody, Justice Misra, along with Justice P C Pant, declined to de-criminalise defamation an offence punishable with two years in jail apart from fine.
In another landmark verdict, Justice Misra said that “horrendous acts of mobocracy” cannot be allowed to overrun the law of the land and asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to sternly deal with mob lynching and cow vigilantism.
On the power tussle between the Delhi government and the Centre, he held that Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal does not have independent decision making powers, and is bound to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
Justice Misra also upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation and was also part of the Bench of seven senior-most judges which convicted then sitting Calcutta High Court judge, Justice C S Karnan, of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment.
The apex court had also rejected the pleas of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and others to decriminalise the colonial-era penal provisions and they will now have to face criminal defamation cases lodged against them.
Recently, a bench headed by CJI Misra by a majority verdict rejected a plea for immediate release of the five rights activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — held in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima violence case for alleged Naxal links, saying “it is not a case of arrest because of mere dissenting views or difference in political ideology”.
CJI Misra was also part of the bench which had in 2015 granted anticipatory bail granted to activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband in a case related to alleged misuse of funds meant for Gujarat riots victims.
In 2015, a Bench led by Justice Misra set aside the ban on dance bars under the Maharashtra Police Act.
A bench headed by him also ordered theatres to mandatorily play the national anthem before a movie and the audience to stand in a bid to “instil committed patriotism and nationalism”. The direction was later made optional.
In a landmark verdict, a bench headed by CJI Misra recognised ‘living will’ made by terminally-ill patients for passive euthanasia.
Misra presided over a bench that reversed the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand after the ouster of Harish Rawat government. Another bench that struck down the provision of the Cine Costume and Make-up Artists Association prohibiting women make-up artists and hairdressers from becoming its members.
A bench headed by him ordered speedy trial of POCSO cases and issued a slew of directions to all high courts regarding trial in sexual assault cases involving children.
Juctice Misra was born on October 3, 1953. After his enrolment as an advocate in 1977, Justice Misra practiced in constitutional, civil, criminal, revenue, service and sales tax matters in the Orissa High Court.
He was appointed as an additional judge of the Orissa High Court on January 17, 1996, before his transfer to the Madhya Pradesh High Court. He became a permanent judge on December 19, 1997.