Chief Justice NV Ramana's Six Months In Office- New Rays Of Hope In Judiciary

During CJI Ramana's tenure, one is witnessing a changed Supreme Court, which is not shying away from seeking and examining the legal justifications of the executive decisions.

Update: 2021-10-30 16:11 GMT

"In the five months since CJI NV Ramana took over, there is new energy infused within the entire system- there is renewed energy and enthusiasm among us in the judiciary to put our best foot forward", said Justice Dr.S Muralidhar, Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court at a function last month. Those who closely follow the developments in the Supreme Court will agree to a large...

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"In the five months since CJI NV Ramana took over, there is new energy infused within the entire system- there is renewed energy and enthusiasm among us in the judiciary to put our best foot forward", said Justice Dr.S Muralidhar, Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court at a function last month. Those who closely follow the developments in the Supreme Court will agree to a large extent with this view.

When Justice NV Ramana took oath as the 48th Chief Justice of India on April 24, 2021, he was taking charge of a Court which had suffered considerable erosion of public faith, especially during the last 5-6 years(for more, read here, here, here & here).

The public was getting wary and exasperated witnessing repeated instances of inaction and evasion of the court in significant constitutional issues, and was starting to place limited hopes with the judiciary. However, CJI NV Ramana, by leading several proactive actions, is lifting the sinking public confidence, and is making incremental enhancement of the stature of the Supreme Court.

A clear example is the recent order passed in the Pegasus case, where a bench led by the CJI ordered probe by an independent committee constituted by it into the allegations of targeted surveillance of activists, journalists, politicians, lawyers and other civilians through Pegasus spyware. In a brilliant and powerful order, the Court endorsed the concerns raised by the petitioners regarding invasion into fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech through unauthorized surveillance. A striking feature of the judgment authored by the CJI was its emphatic rejection of the bogey of "national security" raised by the Union Government to stall enquiry into the snooping allegations. This is a significant change from the earlier approach of the Court, where it used to cower whenever the Government raised the argument of "national security". Such evasive responses were seen in the Kashmir habeas and Rafale cases.

In the Pegasus case, the Court dissected the issues with remarkable clarity, saying that it was only concerned with targeting of civilians and not national security. It chided the Centre for being vague and evasive in its denials and reminded that State can't get away from judicial scrutiny by merely chanting "national security".

'Centre Thought They Could Bludgeon The Court Like Earlier That We Say This & The Court Will Accept It' : Justice Deepak Gupta On Pegasus Order

Such mighty instances of judicial scrutiny were an extremely rare sight during the terms of the Chief Justices immediately preceding CJI Ramana. In the Tribunals issue as well, CJI Ramana's bench put tough questions to the Central Government over its actions and inactions. To push the Centre to expedite the much delayed appointments, the CJI even went to the extent of warning that the Court will stay the contentious Tribunal Reforms Act 2021.

'We Are Very Unhappy' : Supreme Court Says Centre Made NCLT/ITAT Appointments From Wait-List Ignoring Select-List

During CJI Ramana's tenure, one is witnessing a changed Supreme Court, which is not shying away from seeking and examining the legal justifications of the executive decisions, and which is assertive in conveying its disapproval when the governmental actions cross the line. The suo motu COVID case – which received widespread criticism from the bar due to apprehensions about the Supreme Court attempting to stall the High Courts - got a different orientation after CJI Ramana took over, and the other bench to which it was assigned made several crucial interventions to deal with the oxygen shortage and vaccine pricing. The issues flagged by the Court in that case ultimately led the Centre to revise its vaccination policy to announce free vaccines for all above the age of 18 years. That a school girl wrote a handwritten letter (with a colourful illustration of a judge smashing Coronavirus) to the CJI commending the judicial interventions during the COVID second wave is an indication that the Supreme Court established a renewed connect with the common public.

Drawing sent by a school girl to CJI Ramana.

'Free Vaccines For All' : A Powerful Impact Of Supreme Court's Judicial Review

Suo Motu actions

CJI Ramana has taken certain notable suo motu actions during his tenure so far. Based on a news paper report regarding prisoners remaining in custody due to the delay in receipt of bail orders, a suo motu case was taken to examine the aspects related to electronic transmission of court orders. The CJI's bench ordered that the e-copies should be treated as authentic copies.

When a shocking incident of a daylight murder of a district judge in Jharkhad took place, the CJI took a suo motu case to examine the issues related to security of courts and judges.

In the Lakhmipur Kheri case, one can certainly state that the UP Police carried out the arrests of the accused persons, only after the CJI's bench recorded dissatisfaction at the investigation in its suo motu case. The bench, which expressed that the UP Police was "dragging its feet" in the investigation, is monitoring the process and is nudging the police to record the statements of the eyewitnesses promptly, to protect the witnesses and preserve the material evidence.

Decriminalization of politics

The series of orders passed by CJI Ramana to expedite the trial in criminal cases against sitting and former MPs and MLAs are laudable. The CJI-led bench is keeping a close watch to ensure that there are adequate Special Courts in every states for trial of cases against politicians. Orders were also passed to ensure the central agencies like CBI, NIA and ED complete their investigation in an expeditious manner. To curb the trend of governments arbitrarily withdrawing cases against legislators, the Court passed an order mandating that such cases can be withdrawn only with the permission of the jurisdictional High Court.

Remarks against abuse of sedition law

The CJI has also made certain much needed observations against the rampant abuse of sedition law against citizens for their dissent against the government. Noting that Section 124A IPC was a colonial provision which was intended to suppress the Indian freedom movement, the CJI asked the Attorney General if it was necessary to retain the provision after independence. The CJI asked the AG why the Government was not thinking of repealing the law, as it has done with many other colonial laws.

Is It Still Necessary To Continue Sedition Law, Which Was Used By British To Suppress Our Freedom Movement, Even After 75 Yrs Of Independence: CJI Ramana To Centre

Though lacking the binding force as law, the oral remarks of the CJI carry their own weight, which will add momentum to the growing concerns expressed by the civil society against the misuse of this provision at the drop of a hat. Now we are seeing ludicrous but disconcerting situations of sedition law being applied over India-Pakistan cricket matches. In this backdrop, it is hoped that the CJI takes up the cases challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC on a priority basis to render an authoritative pronouncement.

Comments about rule of law, democracy, parliamentary discussion

The CJI has made certain interesting and striking statements while speaking at public functions on issues of contemporary relevance.

On the Independence Day, the CJI made a comment about the "sorry state of affairs" of laws being passed in the legislature without proper debate, which made it difficult for the Courts to understand its real intent and objective. The CJI contrasted this with the earlier days, where there used to be erudite discussions in the Parliament. The CJI's comments, made during the middle of the Parliament's monsoon session where several bills were being passed without much debate amid the walkouts staged by the opposition over the Pegasus issue, assumed a relevant contextual significance.

'Sorry State Of Affairs' : CJI Ramana Says Laws Lack Clarity These Days Due To Lack Of Parliamentary Debates

An earlier statement made by the CJI that elections are not a guarantee against tyranny also generated a lot of public debate.

In his public speeches, the CJI has repeatedly raised the issue of lack of proper support for improving judicial infrastructure, financial autonomy of judiciary and stressed the need to rid the judicial system of its colonial and Anglican ways to make to make it more accessible to the common people. At another event, the CJI said that there should be 50% reservation for women in judiciary. It is worthwhile to mention during CJI Ramana's tenure, the Supreme Court is having the highest ever strength(4) of women judges at a time.

CJI Ramana with women judges of Supreme Court

Mass drive to fill up vacancies

CJI Ramana's tenure is witnessing a dramatic jump in the frequency of collegium resolutions. In a historic move, nine judges appointments were cleared for the Supreme Court in a single stroke, including three women judges. However, the omission of Justice Akil Kureshi despite his high seniority among the HC judges was a point of concern, especially due to a series of past incidents which indicate that he is a persona non grata for the Central Government due to some judgments given by him. 

Justice Kureshi's Exclusion From Supreme Court Raises Troubling Questions

The Collegium led by the CJI has made over 100 recommendations for the High Court judgeships and many of them have been promptly cleared by the Central Government. Yet, there is a need to address the issue of Centre sitting over the names reiterated by the Collegium and also segregating collegium resolutions.

Important cases pending

While it is true that there is more judicial push back against the executive excesses during CJI's Ramana's tenure on a comparative scale, one cannot lose sight of the several important constitutional issues which await final adjudication by the Court. Many of those cases have a direct bearing on the functioning of our democracy, such as the cases relating to interpretation of money bill, electoral bonds and RTI amendment. Crucial cases relating to Citizenship Amendment Act, Article 370, farm laws have not got a single listing before the Court during the present CJI's tenure. Some of the issues raised in these cases have the potential to drastically influence the course of future journey of our constitutional republic.

It is the ardent hope of many that CJI Ramana will continue to display his reformist and activist zeal for the remaining 10 months of his tenure and deal with these pending issues in the suitable manner. The expectations are now running high.

(Manu Sebastian is the Managing Editor of LiveLaw. He may be contacted at He tweets @manuvichar)


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