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CJI Ramana hauls up Centre over forced retirement of NCLAT chairperson

The Attorney General said it will be awkward to remove the existing chairperson for few days and it may not be good.

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Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Thursday came down heavily on the Central government for forcing the retirement of Justice (Retd) AIS Cheema as chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), stating that the way the order was passed, was ‘Awkward’.

The CJI made the remark on a petition filed by Justice (Retd) Cheema, who challenged the reduction of his tenure as officiating Chairperson of NCLAT, alleging that the arbitrary order from the Government to remove him from his post violates the independence of the judiciary.

The CJI said, “According to his plea, he has prepared some five judgments and suddenly you retire him. How can he complete these judgments?”

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the Centre has agreed to continue the tenure of Justice (Retd) Cheema as officiating chairperson till September 20, 2021, but only on papers and he will get all his retirement benefits.

Justice Surya Kant said, “You can allow him to continue till September 20 and send the present Chairperson on leave till then. 

The Attorney General said it will be awkward to remove the existing chairperson for few days and it may not be good.

The CJI replied,

“The way this order was passed is also ‘awkward’. We are sorry to say that, how can an order be passed in this way… The issue is about one more day. Its only tomorrow. Then weekend and then he retires on Tuesday. I must ask you AG, is there any problem against his integrity?” 

The Attorney General replied, “I don’t know. Please adjourn till 2 pm. I will take instructions. So far as the Government is concerned, they have powers.”

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After taking instructions, Attorney General informed the bench that the Government has agreed for continuation of tenure of Justice (Retd) Cheema as officiating chairperson till September 20, and it will send the current chairperson on leave till then. 

The three-judge bench, headed by CJI Ramana and also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, expressed happiness about the decision taken by the Centre. 

“We are informed that the Centre has allowed Justice (Retd) AIS Cheema to go to office, to enable him to pronounce the judgment prepared by him. Current chairperson will be on leave till September 20. We dispose off the plea in terms of facts and circumstances,” said the bench in its order. 

Yesterday, Justice (Retd) AIS Cheema moved the Supreme Court against the government decision to curtail his tenure 10 days before it was supposed to end. 

Earlier this year, the term of Justice (Retd) Cheema as Judicial Member of NCLAT was extended till he attained the age of 67 years on September 21, 2021. On April 18 this year, he was named as the officiating Chairperson of NCLAT and worked as an Acting Chairperson of NCLAT from April 19, 2021 and his last day at the appellate tribunal was on September 10. 

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As per his plea, he received a communication on September 10, stating that his tenure has come to an end since he has completed four years as NCLAT member.

This period of four years is as per the new Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021, which says that a member of NCLAT shall hold office for four years or till he/ she attains the age of 67, whichever is earlier.

“The communication by the Respondent no.1 abruptly curtailing period of term, is totally discriminatory, arbitrary and illegal and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the plea had said.

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