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Legal services to transgenders, rights of women among his key contributions

Altamas Kabir, the 39th Chief Justice of India, who died on February 19 in Kolkata at the age of 68, was one of the leading lights of the legal world. He was suffering for a while.

Justice Kabir was appointed to the Supreme Court on September 9, 2005, and was promoted to the post of Chief Justice of India on September 29, 2012. He held office till July 18, 2013.

Justice Kabir, MA, LLB was born on July 19, 1948. He was enrolled as an advocate in 1973 and practised in the district court and the Calcutta High Court in civil and criminal sides. He was appointed as a permanent judge in the Calcutta High Court on August 6, 1990, and later (March 1, 2005) moved to the Jharkhand High Court as its chief justice.

He was responsible for the computerisation of the Calcutta High Court and the City Civil Court and other courts in Kolkata. He became executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority in 2010, and it was under him that legal services to Transgender people were taken up as a new project of NALSA.

At the Supreme Court, he delivered strong judgements in many important cases, including Sou. Sandhya Manoj Wankhade vs Manoj Bhimrao Wankhade & Ors, in which he, with Justice Cyriac Joseph ruled that female relatives of a husband can also be booked under the Domestic Violence Act.

He also took up the contempt case of advocate Prashant Bhushan who alleged that half out of the last 16 CJIs had been corrupt. Kabir also gave bail in 2012 to a senior journalist, Syed Mohammed Ahmed Kazmi, arrested for his alleged involvement in the Israeli embassy vehicle blast case in which an Israeli diplomat’s wife was injured.

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He was born in a very prominent Kolkata family that was active in politics and beyond. His ancestors had come over to Kolkata from Faridpur (now in Bangladesh).

Politics and law were in his blood. He had seen it from up close. Though he did not choose politics as his career, he learnt from his father Jehangir Kabir—a leading Congress politician and trade union leader of West Bengal—the intricacies of the workings of law and the system of legislation.

Father Jehangir Kabir served as a minister in the cabinet of Bidhan Chandra Roy and Prafulla Chandra Sen in West Bengal. He then became minister in the first non-Congress government in West Bengal in 1967, with Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee as the Chief Minister.

Even his uncle, Humayun Kabir, was famous in politics. He served in the union cabinets of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Altamas started his education at Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling and then went to the famous Calcutta Boys’ School (CBS). It is said that his solid arguments so impressed a teacher at CBS that he advised him to pursue a career in law. This advice shaped his future course of action.

He graduated in history from Presidency College and then went on to study law at the University of Calcutta (now Kolkata).

By Sujit Bhar

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