A Justice for AllFull of Drive
The best way to understand a judge is through his judgments. A glance at the many landmark judgments Altamas Kabir, the new Chief Justice of India, has delivered or been part of in his career reveals two striking traits - a commitment to upholding constitutional propriety and an enormous empathy for the disadvantaged sections of society.
Kabir, 64, has been on benches that delivered judgments on many constitutional matters, human rights cases and election issues. These include restraining banks which used musclemen for loan recoveries, ruling that female relatives of a husband could also be booked under the Domestic Violence Act, upholding of the constitutional office of Governor, and laying down that a member of Parliament removed or suspended by his party does not lose Parliament membership. In 2008, strongly defending the fourth estate, he restrained the Gujarat government from arresting political analyst Ashish Nandy for a piece Nandy had written.
Justice Kabir told the Gujarat counsel at the time: "If a journalist cannot write, then who else will?" Kabir began his career in 1973 as an advocate in a West Bengal district court and later, the Calcutta High Court. He became a permanent judge of the Calcutta High Court in 1990. He was made chief justice of the Jharkhand High Court in March 2005 and elevated to the Supreme Court in September that year.
Kabir hails from a family of educationists and politicians from West Bengal. His uncle Humayun Kabir was education minister under prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. His father, Jehangir Kabir, was a trade union leader who also served as a minister in West Bengal. His sister Shukla Kabir Sinha is a judge in the Calcutta High Court while wife Minna Kabir is a child rights activist.
Lawyers who have appeared before Kabir say he gives them all a patient hearing, and has no pre-conceived notions. "Whether you win or lose a case, you come out satisfied that you got the fullest hearing from him. That's all a lawyer wants," says senior Supreme Court advocate K.T.S. Tulsi. "He has no hang-ups." U. Sarathchandran, member-secretary of the National Legal Services Authority, concurs. "He's very amicable and accessible to even the lowest cadre," says Sarathchandran. "He's very strict at the same time. No one can influence him based on any acquaintance."
Kabir takes charge at a time when the Supreme Court is increasingly deciding on matters that vitally affect Indian business. Its opinion on how the government should allocate natural resources - following a Presidential reference - is the latest instance. It may soon take up the alleged irregularities in allocation of coal blocks as well as a public interest litigation on foreign direct investment in retail. But Kabir's legacy will also depend upon how he tackles the challenges facing the judicial system, such as the huge number of pending cases, the vacancies in high courts, and the perception that the judiciary is encroaching into the domain of policymaking.
He retires on July 18, 2013.
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David Blackmore, Master Brand Ambassador, Glenmorangie Co. Ltd
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Sudarshan Venu, VP, TVS Motor Co.
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Anuj Sohum, Founder & Chairman, Affle Group
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