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Jagdish Singh Khehar to be next CJI, the first from Sikh community

NEW DELHI: India will get its first Chief Justice from the Sikh community in the new year as Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar will be sworn in as the next CJI on January 4.

The process for Justice Khehar’s appointment as the next CJI was set in motion by incumbent CJI T S Thakur, who wrote to the Union government on Tuesday recommending his appointment as the next CJI. This is in sync with the tradition of the CJI being succeeded by the seniormost judge in the Supreme Court.

Justice Thakur retires on January 3. In his letter to law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Justice Thakur described Justice Khehar as a competent and worthy successor.

Interestingly, 64-year-old Justice Khehar’s appointment as CJI would mean persons from the Sikh community getting to occupy the three most important posts in Indian democracy over a period of time — President (Giani Zail Singh), PM (Manmohan Singh) and CJI Justice Khehar was appointed as an SC judge on September 13, 2011.

Justice Khehar will have a short tenure of a little over seven months — from January 4 till August 28. He earned a place in history when the five-judge bench headed by him shot down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), a body being set up through a constitutional amendment unanimously passed by Parliament to select judges for the SC and HCs.

Justice Khehar authored the lead judgment and termed the NJAC a threat to independence of judiciary as the law minister was part of the committee to select judges.

However, he took into account the strong criticism of the opaque procedure employed by the SC-devised collegium system to select persons for appointment as judges and directed the government to redraft the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for judges’ appointment and make it more transparent.

The non-finalisation of MoP has been a handle for the government to counter the present CJI, who has accused the Centre of sitting over recommendations for appointment of judges. The ball, which was thrown into the Centre’s court on December 15, 2015 on framing of MoP, will now be back in Justice Khehar’s court after he assumes charge. The MoP finalisation and filling up of nearly 500 judges’ posts in the higher judiciary, including seven in the SC, would be one of the foremost tasks before Justice Khehar and his senior colleagues.

Justice Khehar also headed a bench which created history by restoring the Congress government headed by Nabam Tuki to power in Arunachal Pradesh even after it was dismissed and President’s Rule was imposed.
Known for his wit in the court room and frankness in calling a spade a spade, Justice Khehar was a long way from law when he graduated in science from Government College, Chandigarh, in 1974. He chose law as a career and completed graduation in law in 1977 from Panjab University. He got LLM degree in 1979 and stood first to win gold medal from the same university.

Immediately after his postgraduation in law, he started practice in Punjab and Haryana HC and was designated senior advocate in 1995. He participated in proceedings relating to removal of two judges — SC judge V Ramaswamy and Chief Justice of Karnataka P D Dinakaran. In the Ramaswamy case, he appeared as counsel for one of the MPs who supported Ramaswamy before the inquiry panel headed by Justice P B Sawant. In the Dinakaran case, he as Chief Justice of Uttarakhand HC headed the inquiry panel.

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