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CHIEF JUSTICE D.Y. CHANDRACHUD – OPPORTUNITES AND CHALLENGES

Author: Piyush Gupta, I year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from National law institute University Bhopal


When Chief Justice U.U. Lalit handed the baton of CJI to Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, contingent on Ministry of Law approval, a myriad of opportunities along with a range of difficulties were also bestowed upon him. The term of the present Chief Justice UU Lalit ends on 8th November, following which Justice Chandrachud will become the 50th CJI of India and will continue to hold the post for the next 2 years and 2 days, considerably long term for any CJI of India in last few years though shorter than the term of his father CJI Y.Y. Chandrachud. Son of former Chief Justice Y.Y. Chandrachud, the longest serving Chief Justice of India, justice Chandrachud obtained his Bachelor in Law from the faculty of Delhi University in 1982 and later went on to complete a Master of Law as well as Doctorate of Juridical Science from Harvard Law University. First as a practising advocate in the Bombay High Court, later as Additional Solicitor General of India and ultimately as the judge of the Supreme Court since 2016, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is known for upholding constitutional rights and values and protecting individual freedom and liberty.


Writing his concurring judgement as a part of the bench that delivered the judgement in Justice K.S.Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union Of India on 26 September 2018[1], he affirmed the Right of Privacy of an Individual and asserted "Privacy is the ultimate expression of the sanctity of an individual. It is a constitutional value which straddles across the spectrum of fundamental rights and protects for the individual a zone of choice and self-determination." Delivery of the only dissenting opinion in the Aadhar judgement[2], he noted that the provisions of the Aadhar Act[3]affected the right to Privacy of an individual. In the same judgement, he also mentioned that passing of Aadhar Scheme as a money bill was unconstitutional. In recent times, when threats to the privacy of an individual and data protection from Multinational Companies and big corporates are looming bigger than ever before, it will be hoped that Justice Chandrachud as CJI would play a prominent role in safeguarding the rights of people regarding privacy and data protection.


Today, when people from sexual minorities such as LGBTQ+ are facing discrimination on a rampant level and Rules and provisions devised by the government failed to fully materialise on the ground level, the judgements delivered by Justice Chandrachud give a ray of hope to people of these communities. Justice Chandrachud upheld the rights of various subjugated communities. In 2018 when Supreme Court struck down section 377[4] of India Penal Code (IPC)[5], delivering the concurring opinion, he mentioned how this could open the door to a wide range of rights for people belonging to a sexual minority community.


In times when inter-religious marriages are frowned upon by the State as well as the society, the judgement delivered by the bench of Supreme court comprising Justice Chandrachud asserted the right of a woman who has attained the majority to exercise her autonomy and right to make decisions concerning her marriage as well as the choice of adopting a religion. When today the climate in society is more polarized than ever before and instances of hate speech have become more frequent than ever before, it remains to be seen how Justice Chandrachud would protect the rights of various communities and religions.

Justice Chandrachud delivered a range of judgements that affirmed the rights of women in various aspects of their lives. He was a part of the bench that decriminalised adultery[6]as punishable offence noting the fact that the said offence traces its roots to the patriarchal views that sought to oppress women and deprive them of their bodily autonomy. He was also a part of the Supreme Court bench that expanded the scope of abortionunder the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971[7]and held that the marital status of a woman must not affect her right to seek abortion and therefore unmarried women also have the right to seek an abortion under the said Act. Justice Chandrachud was also part of the Bench that delivered a judgement in the Sabrimala Case[8] in favour of the right of entry intemples of menstruating age women. Today the benches of the Supreme Court are as conspicuous for the judgement that they delivered as for the absence of female representation in them. The lower number of women judges in the entire spectrum of the Judiciary – Supreme Court, HighCourts and lower judiciary- has become a perennial problem now. Given the background of Justice Chandrachud, some tangible outcome in this regard is expected of him, but he is going to achieve that is anybody’s guess.


An independentpress and media are often termed the fourth pillar of democracy. It is a commonly accepted fact that independent journalism is necessary for the better functioning of Democracy. However, in recent times the institution of journalism has come under attack from certain sections of society, who only seem too eager to take offence to anything as well as from the side of the executive who has resorted to various devices to gag the institution of journalism – the imposition of sedition[9], UAPA[10] et cetera on frivolous grounds. In this context, it remains an unresolved question how one institution of Democracy is going to uphold the rights of another institution.


Apart from all these problems, the problems that need immediate attention are the inter-state as well as centre-state disputes. India is based on a quasi-federal structure but as it is clear in the present time, there is a steep fall in the level of trust between states themselves as well as between the centre and states. States have accused the centre of using the enforcing agencies in a prejudicial manner and to promote the political interest whereas the Centre has accused states of promoting corruption and nepotism. The inter-state disputes, be it border disputes among most of the north-east states as well between Karnataka-Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh – Ladakh or water disputes on the rivers such as Krishna, Kaveri et cetera have undermined the trust between the states. It is incumbent upon the Judiciary to be headed by the upcoming CJI Chandrachud to act as a neutral and impartial arbitrator while delivering the judgements on these issues.


Conclusion

Justice Chandrachud, who would become the 50th Chief Justice of India next month, have his task cut out. While upholding and safeguarding the rights of women, and minorities in terms of sex, class, caste et cetera would be prominent tasks for him, it will also be expected from him to bring reforms in the institution of the Judiciary that has come under criticism for being partial and unaccountable in the recent times. But given his background as a champion of individual freedom and professional integrity, it gives reasons to be optimistic for the future of the Indian Judiciary for the next two years.

[1]K.S. Puttswamy v Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1 [2] Ibid [3]The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (47 of 2016) [4]Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India AIR 2018 SC 4321 [5] Indian Penal Code 1960 (45 of 1860) [6]Joseph Shine v Union of India 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1676 [7] The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (34 of 1971) [8]Indian Young Lawyers Association and Ors v The State of Kerala and Ors 2017 SCC OnLine SC1236 [9] The Indian Penal Code 1860 (45 of 1860) s 124A [10]The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2008 (35 of 2008)