Justice Bobde to take over as CJI today: As advocate, he fought for farmers, defended Bal Thackeray

Manoj Dattatrye More
Justice Sharad Bobde with former CJI Ranjan Gogoi

Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, who takes charge on Monday as the 47th Chief Justice of India and succeeds outgoing CJI Ranjan Gogoi, will be the fourth judge from Maharashtra to hold the highest judicial post in the country.

Earlier, Justice Prahlad Gajendragadkar, the seventh CJI, held office from 1964 to 1966, Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah, the 11th CJI, held office from 1968 to 1970, and Justice Y V Chandrachud, the 16th Chief Justice of India, served from 1978 to 1985.

In the last two years, Justice Bobde has been part of three historical judgements of the Supreme Court. On November 9 this year, Justice Bobde was part of the five-judge constitution bench which delivered an unanimous verdict on the Ayodhya issue.

Justice Bobde was also part of the nine-judge SC bench which had, in August 2017, unanimously held that the Right to Privacy was a constitutionally protected fundamental right in India. He was also part of the three-judge bench that clarified that no Indian citizen should be deprived of basic services and government subsidies because he/she did not have an Aadhaar card.

As an advocate, Justice Bobde had championed the cause of farmers for years by fighting their cases in higher courts.

In 1996, Justice Bobde had also handled a contempt of court case involving Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray. A petition was filed by an individual against Thackeray and fellow Sena leaders Sanjay Raut and Subhash Desai, as well as some newspapers. The petitioner had alleged that at a Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, Thackeray had made a statement, “which precisely contained that he (Thackeray) was told by someone that a judge demanded Rs 35 lakh for delivering a judgment in his favour.”

Besides being well-versed in the finer nuances of the law, Justice Bobde also has a knack for grasping details (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Appearing for Thackeray and others, Bobde argued about the tenability of the petition without the consent of the state Advocate General. “He argued that under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the consent of the Advocate General was necessary for a private person to approach this court as it operates as a filter to eliminate vexatious or frivolous litigations, which are calculated to harass the opponent or for political vendetta, and then to save time of the court. However, in this case, no consent has been received from the Advocate General,” said Nagpur-based advocate Prateek Rajurkar.

The HC had dismissed the arguments and sentenced Thackeray, Raut and Desai to one week’s imprisonment. The Sena leaders appealed the verdict in the Supreme Court. “The SC upheld the arguments made by Bobde and quashed the case,” said Rajurkar.

While practising as an advocate in the Nagpur High Court in 1970s and 80s, Justice Bobde was known as a ‘crusader’ who fought for farmers. “He took up many cases related to farmers, on issues like farm loans, crop loss or disputes with insurance companies, aggrieved farmers used to approach advocate Bobde as they knew he had the required expertise to get justice for them,” recalled advocate R P Joshi, who was part of Bobde’s team in the Nagpur High Court for a decade.

Besides being well-versed in the finer nuances of the law, Justice Bobde also has a knack for grasping details, Joshi said. “From his house, the high court was at a distance of about five minutes. I used to brief him about cases that were going to come up on that particular day. He had a great knack to grasp the details of cases as he later presented his arguments in a flawless and effective manner before the court,” he said.

Born in Nagpur, Justice Bobde graduated from SFS College Nagpur and studied Law at Dr Ambedkar Law College, Nagpur University, in 1978. “His father Arvind Bobde served as the state advocate general twice,” said Rajurkar.

Neeta Jog, his classmate in law college, said, “... I feel immense pride that someone with such a high degree of commitment, dedication and hard work has become CJI. Justice Bobde has been an inspiration for many budding lawyers aspiring to make it big.”

Joshi said not many knew that Bobde had won several tennis tournaments during his college days. “He was an ace tennis player and still remains an avid tennis fan,” he said.