By Arré Bench Nov. 18, 2019
For the next 17 months, until April 23, 2021, Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde will be trusted with upholding the Constitution in the highest court of the land. As his tenure begins, it is a good time to look back at the career of the man who will be heading one of the pillars of our democracy.
The Supreme Court of India saw its 47th Chief Justice take charge on Monday, as Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde was administered the oath of office by President Ram Nath Kovind. His appointment comes at a time when the apex court has just delivered a historic judgement regarding the decades-old Ayodhya land rights case (where he served on the five-judge bench), and sees him take over the CJI’s office from his predecessor, Justice Ranjan Gogoi. For the next 17 months, until April 23, 2021, Justice Bobde will be trusted with upholding the Constitution in the highest court of the land. As his tenure begins, it is a good time to look back at his career and become acquainted with the man who will be heading one of the pillars of our democracy.
Justice Bobde is Justice Gogoi’s recommended pick to succeed him as Chief Justice. This promotion comes after Justice Bobde was first elevated to the Supreme Court in 2013. Prior to his elevation, he had served as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court. Though he is the first in his family to become a judge, Justice Bobde’s legal pedigree is strong – he comes from a family whose members have been practising lawyers in Maharashtra for four generations. His father was a senior advocate in Maharashtra, which is also where Justice Bobde made his own start. He enrolled with the Bar Council of Maharashtra in 1978, practising at the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. It was in 2000 that he made the rank of judge, being elevated to the Bombay High Court as an Additional Judge in March that year. But that’s just the bio-data; Justice Bobde’s time as judge has also provided a glimpse into his reading of the Constitution, and how he would seek to uphold it.
Most notably, and most recently, Justice Bobde was on part of the bench that ruled on the Ayodhya land rights case, a decision that was the subject of a media frenzy as well as a cause for tension over violence. But even before that, Justice Bobde has not shied from hearing difficult cases. In April this year, it was Justice Bobde who chose to head the three-judge bench hearing the sexual harassment case against his then-boss, Justice Gogoi. As quoted in a report by CNN News18, Justice Bobde says “he is not the one who will shy away from doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the institution and the people”.
Justice Bobde was on part of the bench that ruled on the Ayodhya land rights case, a decision that was the subject of a media frenzy as well as a cause for tension over violence.
This was perhaps reflected in an August 2017 Supreme Court ruling, when Justice Bobde was part of a nine-judge bench that unanimously ruled that the Right to Privacy was a fundamental right that was constitutionally protected in India. In the same year, he was also part of a bench that allowed a woman to abort her 24-week-old pregnancy because of developmental problems with the foetus, proving that the judiciary is one of the most rational and least obscurantist institutions in the country. And even though the last two CJIs have seen their terms enveloped in scandals (Justice Gogoi’s alleged sexual harassment scandal, and Justice Dipak Misra’s conflict with rebel judges), the nation continues to have faith in the courts because of hardworking judges like Justice Bobde.
But perhaps the most important thing to know about Justice Bobde is his healthy attitude to differing viewpoints, including dissenting ones. In an interview with The Hindu, he said, “There is a challenge to the authority of parents, schools, Parliament. This is the age of challenging authority… Questioning by itself is healthy, but it should not be malafide and vicious.” Those are encouraging words coming from a man who is expected to, among other things, also uphold freedom of speech in an age where increasing numbers of Indians are finding a voice online.
The next 17 months are sure to be a topsy-turvy ride, but Justice Sharad Bobde seems to have the hang of it.