New Delhi: Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde will be the 47th Chief Justice of India after President Ram Nath Kovind signed a warrant appointing him on the recommendation of the incumbent, Ranjan Gogoi.
The Nagpur-born Justice Bobde, currently the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, will take oath on 18 November, and will retire after an 18-month tenure on 23 April 2021.
But he won’t have to wait to be CJI to get into the thick of things. In his six-plus years at the Supreme Court, Bobde has been part of benches that have heard and are hearing some landmark cases in Indian jurisprudence, such as Aadhaar being mandatory and the Ayodhya case. He was the one who suggested mediation in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.
Bobde has also played a key role within the Supreme Court — as the head of the committee to hear sexual harassment allegations against CJI Gogoi, and as the person who brokered peace between previous CJI Dipak Misra and the four senior judges who held a press conference against how the court was functioning under him.
A family of legal minds
Born in 1956, Bobde belongs to a family of lawyers — his father Arvind Bobde was the advocate-general of Maharashtra, and his older brother, late Vinod Arvind Bobde, was a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.
S.A. Bobde was appointed a judge of the Bombay High Court in 2000, and went on to become Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
He was elevated to the Supreme Court in April 2013.
Basic human rights: Bobde was part of a three-judge bench that ratified an earlier order of the Supreme Court and clarified that no Indian citizen without an Aadhaar card can be deprived of basic services and government subsidies.
Continuing his stand for basic human rights, in 2017, Bobde, as part of a two-judge bench, rejected a woman’s plea seeking termination of her 26-week-old foetus, after a medical board said that the baby might just survive.
Religion and tradition: Justices Bobde and Nageswara Rao, in 2017, had upheld the Karnataka government’s ban on a book by guru Maate Mahadevi, on the grounds that it outraged the religious feelings of Lord Basavanna’s followers.
In a 2018 lecture, Bobde spoke about the importance of the rule of law through the value of ‘dharma’.
“The rule of law has its origin in India. The rule of law, known as ‘dharma’ in ancient India, is the foundation of various laws of today,” he said, adding that it would be a mistake to equate ‘dharma’ with religion.
“While religion divides people, dharma unites them. The Upanishads also say there is nothing higher than dharma.”
Air pollution: Bobde also stood up against the vice of air pollution. A three-judge bench comprising Justices T.S. Thakur, A.K. Sikri and Bobde, in 2016, suspended the sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region, as a reaction to the extreme pollution around Diwali. This, in effect, set the ball rolling for later orders, wherby not only were crackers banned, but also ‘green crackers’ were introduced.
Relief for Amit Shah: Bobde was also a part of the bench when, in 2016, the top court rejected a plea against the discharge of BJP president Amit Shah in the 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, after it questioned the locus standi of petitioner Harsh Mander, a social activist.
“When the person is genuinely aggrieved then the issue takes a different colour but when the person is not remotely connected and wants to revive the case then it is a different matter,” the bench had said, giving relief to Shah.
Other major roles
CJI sexual harassment case: One of the crucial orders passed by Bobde this year was when sexual harassment allegations were levelled against CJI Gogoi.
In April, a committee led by Bobde was constituted to check the veracity of the allegations levelled by a former Supreme Court staff member. However, in May, the committee stated it found “no substance in those allegations”.
Aspersions were cast on the Bobde committee from the moment it was constituted. A wide range of women across disciplines wrote to the judges of the Supreme Court, saying the constitution of the in-house committee was in “complete violation” of the law against sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
They said the formation of the committee tilted the balance against the woman who had made the allegations, but this letter made no difference as the committee functioned as it was supposed to.
Bridging communication gap after 4 judges’ press conference: Bobde is known to have amicable relations with all his brother judges at the Supreme Court. He played a pivotal role in bridging the communication gap between then-CJI Dipak Misra and the four senior-most judges who held a press conference to air grievances about how the court was functioning.
After the press conference by Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph, Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao visited Chelameswar’s residence to gauge what compelled the judges to take the unprecedented step.
Sources in the top court maintain that the harmony and reconciliation the judges arrived at was largely due to the efforts of Bobde.
Ayodhya and the plurality of India
Bobde is part of the five-judge Constitution bench that recently finished hearing the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case. The bench is expected to deliver its verdict before CJI Gogoi’s retirement on 17 November.
Bobde was the first judge on this bench who mooted the idea of mediation in this century-and-a-half-old dispute, to heal “hearts and minds”.
In February 2018, he had delivered a verdict in which he had asked the judiciary to be “fully conscious of the plural composition of the country”.
While quashing a Bombay High Court order granting bail to a man who allegedly killed a Muslim youth in 2014, Bobde said: “The judiciary must be fully conscious of the plural composition of the country while adjudicating issues pertaining to rights of various communities.”
In 2016, Bobde was part of a bench led by then-CJI T.S. Thakur which ruled that seeking votes in the name of religion might be a greater evil than exploiting caste or language sentiments.
In March 2016, Bobde was the only Indian judge to represent India at the high level Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, which was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. This resolution had been adopted unanimously on 28 September 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US.