Friday was the last working day for Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court. The judge is set to retire on June 22 but his last working day was on Friday, when the Supreme Court closes for the summer vacations. By the time it reopens on July 2, his tenure would be over.
Dispelling speculation that he would break with tradition, Chelameswar sat in the chief justice’s court with Dipak Misra and Justice DY Chandrachud on Friday. It is a tradition in the Supreme Court that a judge who is retiring from office sits in the chief justice’s court on their last working day. However, since he had turned down an invitation by the Supreme Court Bar Association for his farewell – another tradition – there were rumours that he would not appear in the chief justice’s court on his last working day.
The bench convened at 10.35 am for a short period of time, Bar and Bench reported, adding that three members of the Bar paid their tributes to the judge in open court.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan said, “Future generations will remember your contribution to democracy and the country,” while senior advocate Rajiv Dutta thanked Chelameswar for “upholding the ideals of the institution”. Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, in his farewell speech, also thanked the judge and said his grace towards junior members of the Bar will always be appreciated.
Chelameswar was one of the four Supreme Court judges who had in January openly protested against alleged maladministration in the top court on Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s watch. In March, he wrote to Misra expressing concern about the government’s interference in judicial functioning.
He has spoken up in several other matters, including some relating to judicial appointments, the collegium system, and had also gone public with his decision to boycott meetings of the collegium, alleging lack of transparency and accountability. He also played a major role in getting the chief justice of India to disclose decisions the secretive collegium made on the Supreme Court’s website.
Lost the chance to be India’s chief justice
Chelameswar was appointed additional judge in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1997. While he was made Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court in May 2007, he was not elevated to the Supreme Court till until October 2011. The unexplained delay denied him the chance to be chief justice of India.
His landmark judgements include striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. He also headed the bench that referred the matter on Aadhaar’s privacy concerns to a larger Constitution bench.