Why CJI Dipak Misra Will Be The Most Memorable Judge In History

The Indian judicial system, as we all know, is very slow paced and it usually takes decades for any significant conclusion to be reached. While this not only frustrates the public in general, it hinders justice to the deserved ones.

Changing this age old ritual of delayed justice is no mean task. But 65-year-old former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra did the unthinkable in merely 13 months and revolutionized the way Indian citizens will be judged in the future.

A steep successful curve

Born on October 3, 1953 in Cuttack, Dipak pursued a degree in law from Madhusudhan Law College in Cuttack and cleared the bar on February 14, 1977. At the age of 24, he began his career at the Orissa High Court and the Service Tibunal and practised in constitutional, civil, criminal, revenue, service and sales tax matters.

Since then, he has played a crucial role in the Indian judiciary. In 1996, Dipak was appointed as an additional judge of the Orissa High Court. A year later, he was transferred to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, where he later became a permanent judge. In 2009, he took charge as the Chief Justice of Patna High Court. 

His career graph continued to rise exponentially and in 2010, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. Within a year, owing to his stupendous performance, Dipak was elevated as a Supreme Court judge on October 10, 2011.

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During his stint at the apex court of India, he dealt with the country’s some of the most high-profile cases including the historical Yakub Memon case and later on, changed various archaic rules that prevailed in India. 

In the Own Motion vs State case, the Delhi Police, under Dipak’s judgement, were strictly instructed to upload First Information Report (FIR) on their website within 24 hours of the FIRs being lodged. This enabled the accused to file appropriate applications before the court for redressal of their grievances. 

In an unprecedented overnight hearing at 3:20 A.M. on 30 July 2015, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Misra dismissed Yakub Memon's last-minute petition for a stay on his death warrant. The bench said: "if we have to stay the death warrant it would be a travesty of justice. We do not find any merit in the writ petition". A few hours later, Yakub was hanged.

Dipak also was involved in the final judgement regarding the infamous Nirbhaya gangrape incident that shook the world in 2012. Observing that “wanton lust” and “servility to absolutely unchained carnal desire and bestiality” ruled the minds of the four convicts, CJI Dipak Misra awarded them the death sentence in May 2017. 

The final feather, and the biggest one, on Dipak’s cap, was added on August 28, 2017 when he was appointed as the 45th Chief Justice of India (CJI) by President Ram Nath Kovind. 

Barrage Of Historic Judgements

In his fairly uphill career, Misra stumbled upon a small bump when four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J Chelameswar (now retired), Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph – held an unprecedented press conference in January this year accusing Chief Justice Dipak Misra of “selective assignment of cases to preferred judges” and that “sensitive cases were being allotted to junior judges”.

However, the disenchantment among the judges seemed to have faded away, especially after a Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan confirmed, six months after the press conference, that the Chief Justice of India is indeed the “master of the roster” and that “the CJI has the role of first among equals and is empowered to exercise leadership in administration of the court which includes assignment of cases".

Meanwhile, an unperturbed Dipak continued his fine run and ended the 120-year-old dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu regarding the Cauvery river water dispute on February 16, 2018. Declaring the Cauvery a “national asset”, the bench upheld the water-sharing arrangements finalised by the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal in 2007. In the verdict CJI Dipak Misra said, “Cauvery, as the Ganga of the South, and the river is not a state's property but a natural resource.” Karnataka was directed to supply 177.25 tmc instead of 192 tmc, from Billigundlu to Mettur dam in Tamil Nadu.

Just before the conclusion of his tenure, Dipak made a celebrity exit by reading out some of the most historic judgments that will significantly impact the future of India. 

It all started with the striking down of the age old Indian Penal Code 377 that criminalized homosexuality. The bench, terming Section 377 as 'irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary', diluted it to exclude all kinds of adult consensual sexual behaviour.

Under CJI Dipak, the Supreme Court then struck down the 158-year-old Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. The Colonial-era law criminalised adultery, stating that a woman could be punished for adultery, as could a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with another man's wife without his consent. The Supreme Court called the law unconstitutional because it “treats a husband as the master”.

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He then clarified the constitutional validity of Aadhaar in the second longest oral hearing in the history of the apex court. It struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed the sharing of citizen data with private entities. The ruling means that Aadhaar is mandatory only to file IT returns and for PAN allotment. However, it is voluntary for bank accounts, e-wallets, and school admissions.

In his final ruling, Dipak changed the way women are look at according to religious faiths. The Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala in Kerala is visited by about 45–50 million devotees every year. However, women between the ages 10 and 50 were kept out because menstruation, that is normal during this range of age, was considered impure. On September 28, a five-bench judge comprising Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra, led by CJI Dipak Misra overruled the Kerala High Court’s 27-year-old decision that restricted the entry of women into the temple.

On October 2, Dipak finally called an end to his illustrious career as he reached his retirement age of 65 and appointed Ranjan Gogoi as his successor. With his calm demeanour, former CJI Dipak Misra is a paradigm for every law enthusiast on how to go about one’s duties and create a legacy, notwithstanding the threats and insults in the way.

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