The first day of justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) on Thursday was a testimony of his approach to judgeship, justice, and judiciousness. From compassion to concern, from respect of procedure to equity, the judge encapsulated all attributes as he headed the bench in the first court of the country.
The day began with justice Chandrachud promising the lawyers of making his court hall a “no stress” court for everyone; and then, as the day progressed, he meant business.
“The might of the government against a safai karmchari?” said CJI Chandrachud when the Tamil Nadu government sought to argue an appeal against giving regular appointment to a sweeper, who was hired on a part-time basis.
Throwing out the state’s appeal, the he said: “A man served a school for 22 years. At the end of those 22 years, the person goes home without gratuity, pension…This is the lowest strata of our society. How can the government go against a poor sweeper? The might of the government against a safai karmchari? Sorry, we are dismissing.”
Justice Chandrachud’s concerns for sportsmen came across when the bench took up a matter relating to the new constitution of All India Football Federation. As lawyers argued on contempt proceedings against some former executive committee members and a forensic audit, the judge raised concern about sportspeople. “We are worried that with all these procedural wranglings, when will our players play football?” he asked.
The CJI added: “Football is a popular sport since we all play it. But it has not reached the level where achievements are made. So, the new constitution has to be finalised quickly so that the game can be taken ahead like cricket and hockey.”
The question of equity arose when the bench took up Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan’s petition against the expedition shown by the Election Commission to declare the Rampur seat from Uttar Pradesh vacant after he was sentenced to three years in jail in a 2019 hate speech case. Khan complained that EC announced the Rampur by-election on November 5 within 48 hours, while the SP leader could not get a hearing of his appeal since the appellate court was shut.
EC brought up previous Supreme Court judgments and legal provisions in support of its decision, but the CJI stressed on fairness of the procedure and denial of an opportunity to a legislator to save his seat by approaching a higher court in appeal and getting his conviction stayed.
“How will it be fair not to give him even an opportunity to approach a court? If the court dismisses the appeal, the disqualification stays and the story ends there. But he should get at least get a chance,” remarked justice Chandrachud, as the bench put on hold the election process for Rampur constituency for a day and directed the sessions court to decide Khan’s plea within 24 hours.
Laying emphasis on the deference to the procedure and hierarchy of forum, the CJI, in a separate case, declined to entertain a petition on cleaning of Yamuna around Mathura, pointing out the petitioner must first approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT). “There is a forum created under a specific legislation. That forum is already seized of similar matters. You must approach them first,” he told the petitioner.