Monday, October 2, 2023

Constitution Day: Former Chief Justices speak on what the Day means

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By Rishira Jain

As India braces to celebrate the 72nd Constitution Day or Samvidhan Divas, the views expressed by the head of the highest judicial authority of the country, the Chief Justice of India, hold special significance. Here’s a look at some quotes from the speeches of CJIs.

On the 71st Constitution Day, then Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had taken the opportunity to urge the legal fraternity, especially the young lawyers, to assist Judges and the institution. 

He said, “You should protect the institution from motivated and targeted attacks, he said. “We are all ultimately part of one large family. Do not shy away from standing up for what is right, and against what is wrong.”

Justice Ramana had in 2021, expressed his delight at being part of the legal fraternity. “I am happy to be a part of the legal community, which has given so much to the freedom struggle and played such an integral role in the drafting of the Constitution. None can forget the contributions of lawyers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lala Lajpat Rai, Sardar Patel and Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, whose dedication and sacrifices for the cause of the people are legendary. All of us here are successors of that glorious legacy,” he had added.

The same year, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud, who were the second and third senior-most Supreme Court Judges at that time,  also expressed their opinions on the Constitution Day.

Justice Lalit, who later became the 49th Chief Justice of India, said “The Constitution gave strength and character to the citizens, apart from the feeling of being a part in the building of the nation.”

CJI D.Y. Chandrachud stated in 2021 that the constitutional rights and liberties of citizens of the country were of paramount importance. “Intervention of the Apex Court is warranted in cases where evidence suggests deprivation of Constitutional or fundamental rights. The Supreme Court not just has the power, but the mandate to interfere in such cases and controversies,” he added. 

In 2019, then CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde said, “The Constitution of India does not belong only to the individuals in black robes – lawyers or judges, or individuals who have been duly elected, or even the government, but it belongs to each and every individual of our country.”

Celebrating the 70 years of India’s first and most important constitutional moment, Justice Bobde said the members of the Constituent Assembly knew they were shaping lives, livelihoods and the culture of every single citizen of India. 

“This document is not a legal framework to conduct the affairs of the nation, but a framework of life for all the citizens of the nation,” he added. 

The 47th CJI had also batted for inclusion of Artificial Intelligence in legal work. He said, “A translation software powered by AI will improve the efficiency of judicial delivery system. This will result in delivering justice to the countless litigants and lawyers, whose access to timely justice is currently limited by the restraints of language.” 

He said the registry of the Supreme Court had launched the Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software (SUVAS), a software trained by Artificial Intelligence, especially designed for Judicial Domain, which could translate English Judicial documents, including Orders and Judgments, into nine vernacular languages.

In 2018, then CJI Ranjan Gogoi had termed the Constitution as being an integral part of the lives of people. “It’s the voice of the marginalised and guides us in the moment of crisis. Today may not be the time to celebrate, but to test how far we have come since Independence.”

As per the 45th CJI, Dipak Misra, “The Constitution is a lucid and living document. The fundamental rights of the citizens form the core and bedrock of the Constitution, which cannot be compromised. The citizens should follow one single religion, the Constitutional religion.”

He had also refuted the claim that the judiciary was encroaching on the domain of the legislature and the executive, responding to a statement made by then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. “While no right is absolute, there should be no fetters, it can destroy the central dogma of the Constitution,” Justice Misra had added.

In 2016, the celebration of Constitution Day saw Justice TS Thakur, the incumbent CJI, mention the vacancy of 500 Judges in the High Courts, stating “There were vacant rooms in the High Courts and the Tribunal, but no Judges. No retired Supreme Court Judge wants to head the Tribunal.”   

Then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was present during the event, said that vacancies in lower courts had been a great cause of concern as the judiciary had not acted swiftly over these appointments. He further alleged that while the High Courts showed courage during the Emergency, the Supreme Court failed, which was a ‘monumental’ failure. 

Then Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi sided with the Government and said that the Constitution has set a Lakshman Rekha for all institutions, including the Judiciary, which should exercise self-control and self-restraint. “The job of the courts was to ensure that the executive and the legislature worked within their limits,” he added. 

This prompted Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, who became the 44th CJI in 2017, to say that the government and legislature also need to follow the constitutional norms and not to cross the Lakshman Rekha.

“Whenever the basic principles of the Constitution like separation of powers have been attacked, the top court has come to their rescue. The cause of the poor and national interest are the principles that the judiciary has protected,” he added.

Justice P.N. Bhagwati, 17th CJI, while delivering his Law Day address on November 26, 1985, had said, “It is in the fitness of things that on the day on which the Constitution was adopted and enacted, we should wish to emphasise and highlight the fundamental role of law in our society and remind ourselves of the sublime purpose, which the law is intended to serve in a Republic governed by the Rule of Law.”

On November 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India had adopted the Constitution of India, which came into force on January 26, 1950. The legal fraternity started celebrating November 26 as Law Day in 1979 and continued to do so till 2015. 

The Union government declared November 26 as Constitution Day in 2015 by a gazette notification and it has been celebrated since as the same.

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