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Full court reference held for former SC judges late Justices Monoj Kumar Mukherjee, MY Eqbal, SC Aggarwal

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The Supreme Court on Thursday held a full court reference for retired Supreme Court judges late Justice Monoj Kumar Mukherjee, Justice MY Eqbal and Justice SC Aggarwal for their service to the court and justice.

At the full court reference, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said the Court has assembled to mourn the passing of three renowned members of the Bench.

Justice Monoj Kumar Mukherjee

On the contribution of Justice Mukherjee, the CJI said he was born on 1st of December, 1933. He completed his B.Sc. from Presidency College, Kolkata and went on to study law at Calcutta University.

He joined the Bar in 1956 and practiced before the SubDivisional and District Courts as well as the Labour Tribunal in Asansol. His areas of expertise were Criminal Law and Labour Law. During his days as an Advocate at the High Court of Calcutta, he successfully defended various clients detained under Maintenance of Internal Security Act and Defense of India Act, especially during the National Emergency of 1975 to 1977.

His vast experience and knowledge led him to be appointed as an Additional Judge of the High Court of Calcutta in 1977 and a permanent Judge later the same year. Between 1991 and 1993, Justice Mukherjee was appointed Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court and then the Bombay High Court.

He was elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India on 14th December, 1993. During his tenure, he was part of several Constitution Benches. In the case of ‘State of Tamil Nadu Vs. Arooran Sugars’, he was a part of the bench wherein it was held that the power of the Legislature to amend or repeal a statute, or to give it prospective or retrospective effect, cannot be challenged unless the Court is of the view that it violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

He was part of the bench in T.N. Seshan, Chief Election Commissioner of India Vs. Union of India, where the posts of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner were equated within the constitutional framework. The case is the cornerstone of electoral jurisprudence in India.

Justice Mukherjee also clarified the extent of the Right to Education in ‘University of Delhi Vs. Anand Vardhan Chandal’. It was held that while the Right to Education is a fundamental right, the right to contest the students’ union elections is merely a statutory right.

He demitted the office on 30th November, 1998. His years at the Bench earned him deep respect from all the members of the Bar. Known for his empathy to litigants and speedy disposal of cases, he was deeply committed to the delivery of justice. He used to encourage to junior members of the Bar.

In May 1999, Mr. Justice Monoj Kumar Mukherjee was appointed by the Centre as the Chairperson of the Inquiry Commission pertaining to the alleged disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Justice Mukherjee accepted only a single rupee as fee for heading this Inquiry Commission.

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His wisdom and leadership were inspiring not only at the Bench, but also in his private life as well. He was the eldest in a family of 12 siblings, and was a guiding light to his brothers and sisters. His youngest brother Senior Advocate Sri Milon Mukherjee and youngest sister, Advocate Kavita Mukherjee are practicing in the High Court of Calcutta.

He is fondly remembered for his discipline and integrity, as well as his quest to uphold the Rule of Law. With unwavering dignity, he has left behind his indelible footprints. He left for heavenly abode on 17th April, 2021 and is survived by his sons, Monojit Mukherjee, Mitrajit Mukherjee and Miranjit Mukherjee and their families.

Justice M.Y. Eqbal

On Justice M.Y. Eqbal, CJI Ramana said he was born on 13th February, 1951. Heobtained his Bachelor’s degree in science from Ranchi University and thereafter earned his degree in Law as a gold medallist in 1974. He started his practice in 1975, specializing in civil law. His legal acumen was well-acknowledged, and he was appointed as the Standing Counsel for several banks, insurance companies and financial institutions.

In 1990, he was designated as a Government pleader at the Ranchi Bench of the Patna High Court. Three years later, he was appointed as Government Advocate. He was elevated as a Judge of the High Court of Patna on 9th May, 1996. Upon bifurcation of Bihar, he was made a Judge of the High Court of Jharkhand in November 2000. He was also appointed as the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Jharkhand.

In the year 2003, he was nominated by the then Hon’ble Chief Justice of India as a Member of the Ravi and Beas Water Tribunal, which was instrumental in settling the inter-state water dispute between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. He worked tirelessly to improve the legal system. His commendable service during his tenure Executive Chairman of the Jharkhand State Legal Services Authority and Judge-in-charge of the State Judicial Academy, Jharkhand is remembered till date.

His commitment and passion for the cause of legal aid was incomparable. His tenure as a High Court judge is remembered for his stance on the concept of ‘domicile’ in the landmark case of ‘Prasant Vidyarthy & Anr. Vs. State of Jharkhand & Ors.’ He held that the restrictive definition of ‘local persons’ put forth by the Jharkhand government for appointment to the State’s labour department was unreasonable and ultra vires Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

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He was appointed as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Madras on 11th June, 2010. As Chief Justice, he was successful in significantly reducing the pendency. He spearheaded the introduction of Holiday Family Courts for working couples facing matrimonial disputes, a novel idea. He also played an instrumental role in the battle against child labour, providing equal opportunity to differently abled persons, and ensuring access to education for children.

On 24th December, 2012, he was appointed as Judge of the Supreme Court of India. During his tenure, he notably held the Reserve Bank of India to be accountable to the public in ‘RBI Vs. Jayantilal N. Mistry’. He directed the RBI to disclose information in its annual inspection report and stated that the RBI was supposed to uphold public interest and not the interest of individual banks.

Justice Eqbal also authored a vital judgement on the extent of benefits under Rent Control Acts. It was held that tenants may only enjoy the benefits after strict compliance with statutory provisions. Justice Eqbal in the case of ‘Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) College Trust & Management Society v. State of Maharashtra’, upheld the importance and independence of minority educational institutions. His decision ensured that the sanctity of minority institutions is maintained. He held that these should be given full opportunity to fulfill their constitutional objective, which was to enhance education for minorities and further promote and preserve minority language and culture.

Every Thursday I along with my brother judges, used to visit Justice Eqbal in his chambers. We used to enjoy varieties of tea and biscuits along with some lively discussions. I shall always cherish those fond memories of a dear friend and a gentleman.

He demitted the office on 12th February, 2016. Justice Eqbal was grace personified. His modesty, humility and kindness are worth emulating by all. Justice Eqbal believed that education is the single most important tool for empowerment of women and to support his belief, he started college scholarship programs for meritorious girl students in Ranchi, his hometown. He undertook a lot of charitable work in Ranchi primarily for espousing the causes of quality education and medical facilities.

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Besides law, the only thing that shared his equal attention and commitment, was his family. Justice Eqbal was a devoted husband, a dedicated father and an indulgent grandparent. He was loved equally by family and friends and will always be remembered for his unconditional and unwavering love, support and kindness. He would always lovingly quote – “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. He left for heavenly abode on 6th May, 2021 and is survived by his wife, Iffat Eqbal, son Zoheb Khan, daughters Dr Sadaf Khan and Sadia Khan and their families.

Justice S.C. Agrawal

Justice S.C. Agrawal was born on 5th September, 1933. After obtaining his degree in science, he decided to join the legal profession and obtained his degree in Law from Rajasthan University in the year 1952. His career began when he enrolled himself as a Pleader in the District Court, Jaipur. Rising swiftly through the profession, he started his practice at Jodhpur as an Advocate of the High Court of Rajasthan in 1955.

Inspite of his successful practice, he had a deep quest for knowledge. He obtained an LL.M. Degree from University College, London and was called to the Bar in England from the Middle Temple in 1957. On his return to India in 1959, he enrolled himself as an Advocate at the Supreme Court of India, where he practiced for nearly two decades.

He was appointed as an Additional Judge of the High Court of Rajasthan in June 1978 and elevated as a permanent Judge in June 1980. Ten years later, he was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India on 11th January, 1990.

His decision in the case of ‘Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti Vs. State of West Bengal’ was key in emphasising the State’s obligation as a welfare state and to provide adequate medical services to the people. Further, he held that the State cannot avoid its constitutional obligation of providing free legal aid to those in need.

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In ‘Indian Medical Association Vs. V.P. Shantha & Ors.’, he brought the medical profession within the ambit of a service as defined in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and clarified a range of earlier decisions. In the Constitutional Bench decision of S N Mukherjee v. Union of India, Justice Agrawal conducted a detailed analysis of the provisions of the Army Act 1950, in light of of the principles of natural justice and held there was no requirement of furnishing reasons for the Chief of Army Staff or the Union Government when it confirmed proceedings of court-martial.

He retired from office on 04th September, 1998. The Supreme Court of India had appointed Justice Agrawal to a one-member Enquiry Commission. The objective of the Commission was to look into controversies pertaining to absorption of employees in certain colleges. His efforts in scrutinizing a large number of files, hearing multiple individual employees, their associations, and concerned authorities were greatly appreciated.

Justice Agarwal truly lived by example. He bequeathed his residential house in New Delhi to the Ramakrishna Mission, Howrah for its ongoing charitable activities in the fields of health and education. He has bequeathed all his movable assets towards charity in the fields of education and health for those who are deprived of the same. He has allocated generous sums of money towards a law college and a hospital in the name of his late parents.

He has allocated an amount of Rs 1 crore to a Law College in the memory of his father Late Shri Chiranji Lal Agrawal and Rs 1 crore for a hospital in the name of his mother Late Smt. Kamla Devi. He left for heavenly abode on 28th July, 2021 and is survived by his brother, Dinesh Chandra Agrawal, sisters, Usha Agrawal and Nisha Malhotra and their families.

My Brother and Sister Judges join me in conveying our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families of Justice Monoj Kumar Mukherjee, Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice S.C. Agrawal. We pray to the Almighty to give them strength to bear this irreparable loss with fortitude.

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