New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday threatened a suo moto stay on the Tribunals Reforms Act, as it asked the Centre to reinstate acting NCLAT chief, Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema, who was asked to retire 10 days before due date of September 20. However, the impasse did not last long, as the Centre conceded the top court’s demand.
During the hearing on the matter, a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli expressed serious displeasure over hasty replacement of Justice Cheema with Justice M. Venugopal, just 10 days before the former’s retirement, and threatened to suo motu stay on the Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, submitted that he is prepared to argue the Centre’s stand on the matter and insisted the new appointment was made as per new Act. At this, the Chief Justice replied: “In that case, we will have to suo motu stay your new legislation.”
However, the impasse did not last long. After the matter was adjourned for 30 minutes, the government blinked but said that Justice Cheema’s reinstatement should not be treated as a precedent.
Venugopal told the top court: “I have taken instructions. It was said he (Cheema) took leave to write judgments. So, we have decided that he will be allowed to go to office and pronounce judgments.”
He added that Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave.
Appreciating the AG’s efforts in breaking the deadlock, the bench said: “The Attorney General solved the problem. We thank you for this.”
Initially, the AG had submitted before the top court that Justice Cheema would be “treated” as acting Chairperson till September 20 and he will be paid his service benefits.
However, the bench pointed out at five judgments reserved by Justice Cheema and added that he should be allowed to pronounce these judgments. “Let him pass the 5 judgments or it will have to be heard again,” the CJI said.
As the AG responded that it would be “very awkward” for the government to remove Justice Venugopal now, the Chief Justice replied the way this order of premature retirement of Justice Cheema was passed is awkward. “Please understand, you yourself created such a situation,” he told the AG.
“Taking note of the submissions advanced by the learned Attorney General for India, the writ petition stands disposed of in the above terms. We make it clear that the instant order has been passed taking into consideration the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present facts and this shall not be treated as a precedent. Consequent upon disposal of the writ petition, pending interlocutory application also stands disposed of,” said the bench in its order.
Justice Cheema had challenged his “premature” and sudden removal from office as NCLAT’s acting Chairperson on September 10 in the top court.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing Justice Cheema, had emphasised it is not correct to treat a former Bombay High Court judge, who had been part of the legal profession for 40 years in such manner.