Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana administered the oath of allegiance to the Constitution to nine fresh Supreme Court judges, bringing the number of vacancies in the top court down to just one. On multiple levels, the event was momentous. It was the first time that nine Supreme Court justices were sworn in at the same time. Three of the judges were female. Justice B.V. Nagarathna, one of those, is set to become Chief Justice of India in 2027. Justice BV Nagarathna, is on the brink of becoming the nation’s 1st woman Chief Justice.
Justice Nagarathna, born on 30 October 1962. She hails from Engalaguppe Chatra village in Pandavapura taluk in Mandya district of Karnataka. She is set to become India’s second Chief Justice from the same family. In 1989, her father, E S Venkataramaiah, acted as the 19th Chief Justice of India for six months.
Nagarathna finished SSLC at Bengaluru’s Sophia School. Her education was finished in Delhi, where her father was a Supreme Court judge. In 1987, she graduated from the Faculty Law College of the University of Delhi.
The 58-year-old started her legal career in 1987 when she joined the Karnataka Bar Council & practiced constitutional, commercial, as well as administrative law. She was appointed as an Additional Judge of the Karnataka High Court in February 2008, then 2 years later, in Feb 2010, she had become a permanent judge. During her 13-year tenure as a judge, Justice Nagarathna has been outspoken in her criticism of the media as well as lawyers who have over the limit.
- Strengthening the Education Cause
During her time on the Karnataka High Court, Justice Nagarathna handled over a number of important issues involving education policy. Her decisions have emphasized values such as fair access to high-quality education while preserving educational institutions’ autonomy. On July 29, a bench headed by Justice Nagarathna ordered a group of professionals to prepare a draft roadmap for strengthening the state’s government-aided schools’ facilities. She also urged to the state administration on August 2 that teaching & non-teaching school staff be recognised as frontline staff for prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations. The bench led by Justice Nagarathna commended the cause of access to quality education even during the outbreak and asked the state govt to overcome the digital gap by expanding the reach of online classrooms. “Whether there is a pandemic or not, children’s education must continue,” she insisted. She also guaranteed that the special requirements of a certain group of pupils are met in order to provide meaningful accessibility to education. In this sense, she stated unequivocally that the government cannot overlook the distribution of sanitary napkins to adolescent schoolgirls.
- Checking up on the Migrant Crisis
Justice Nagarathna, together with Chief Justice Abhay Oka, demanded responsibility from the state administration and provided directives to deal with the immigration situation caused by the abrupt imposition of lockdown. On May 30, 2020, a bench of Chief Justice Oka as well as Justice Nagarathna ordered the state govt to document their “systematic strategy” to assist the transportation of more over 6,00,000 migrants who have yet to repatriate to their home states. The same bench also ordered the state government to ensure proper food as well as water arrangements for migrants travelling via Shramik trains. Because of her pressure on the state govt, Govt, chose to foot the bill for migrants’ trip to their home states.
- Welfarist Jurisprudence:
Justice Nagarathna’s jurisprudence in the Karnataka High Court is characterised by social empathy & defense of the constitutional rights of the poor. She has shown a strong commitment to data, expert consensus, and a proactive approach to challenges of equitable as well as high-quality access to public resources for most vulnerable.
In 2012, Justice Nagarathna issued a ruling highlighting the role of regulating electronic media. “While truthful information distribution is a fundamental necessity of any broadcasting channel, sensationalism in the manner of ‘Breaking News,’ ‘Flash News,’ or any other kind must be curtailed,” she stated in her decision.
Justice Nagarathna underlined that the concept of regulation must not be interpreted to indicate control by the govt. or the powers that be, while encouraging the Union government to explore establishing an autonomous & statutory framework to govern broadcast media.
- She was a member of the bench that ruled in 2019 that temples are not “commercial establishments” and that their employees are not eligible to gratuities.
- In a divorce proceeding in December 2020, Justice Nagarathna criticised the “patriarchal system” for neglecting women. “People talk about women’s empowerment all the time, but society has no idea how to handle an empowered woman. Parents do not instruct their boys on how to treat a strong woman. That is an issue with men, to be sure,” Justice Nagarathna stated in her ruling.
- She was a member of a bench that ruled in July this year that children who are born out of void marriages have a legitimate claim to compassionate appointments as well.
In 2009, protesting advocates attacked Karnataka high court Chief Justice PD Dinakaran & Justices Nagarthna as well as Gopal Gowda in a disturbing occurrence that may be a first in the history of the Indian judiciary. The lawyers then walked through the corridors of the high court before entering the courtroom, where justices Gopala Gowda and Nagarathna were hearing cases. The lawyers initially urged that the judges not proceed with the sessions, but when they did, they began singing the national anthem, followed by bhajans.
They then began hurling papers and books at the two judges, using foul language. Some activists had even gotten their hands-on chairs and were hoisting them into the air. When the judges refused to give up, the lawyers exited the courtroom and shut all four doors, leaving only the two judges inside. The power to the courtrooms was also turned off. “We are not enraged, but rather saddened by what the Bar has did to us. We have no choice except to bow our heads in humiliation. Are we to rise at the Bar’s request, and are the parameters dictated by the Bar?” Following the event, she retaliated.
RISE OF WOMEN IN JUDICIARY
Justice Nagarathna will leave her current position in 2024 (the retirement age for high court judges is 62 years). Her ascension to the Supreme Court, where judges must retire at the age of 65, will put her closer to being India’s first female Chief Justice, albeit she will probably only serve for a month. Justice Nagarathna’s promotion to the highest post would be a watershed event for women in the judiciary, since the Supreme Court has only had roughly eight female judges.
The Week cited Supreme Court counsel Brijesh Kalappa as saying, “There has never been a female CJI in the country. The appointment of Justice Nagarathna to the top office in 2027 would go a long way toward casting the Supreme Court in a new light, as it will provide a new viewpoint, a sense of intuition, purpose, as well as compassion.”
Author(s) Name: T. Sree Sai Kundhan (Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Vishakapatnam)
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