The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) bids farewell to Justice R. Banumathi who is set to retire from the office on July 19.
In her farewell function, Justice Banumathi said she had been a victim of judicial delay and complicated procedure. She revealed that she had lost her father in an accident when she was only two years old. She narrated that she, along with her mother and two sisters, was unable to procure compensation for the accident on account of long-drawn court processes and in the absence of adequate assistance.
Speaking on the event held through virtual mode, the Attorney General for India KK Venugopal said that with the retirement of Justice Banumathi, the Supreme Court is losing a great judge, and wished Justice Banumathi all the best for her future. The AG expressed hope that the judge would be back at legal work by presiding over arbitration disputes.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave who is also the President of SCBA said the “void” and “vacuum” left behind after Justice Banumathi’s superannuation is a gap, which will be “very difficult to fill by the Collegium”.
Justice Banumathi expressed her thank to all the members of the Bar who appeared before her in all courts, right from the District Courts to the Supreme Court. She had a distinction of being the second woman judge after Justice Ruma Pal who served as Collegium member.
Speaking to the Leaflet, senior advocate Indira Jaising said, “Justice Banumathi was devoted to work. She never missed the call of duty. In her own way committed to gender justice, she authored a separate judgment in the Nirbhaya gang rape-cum-murder case”. Jaising, however, added that she was disappointed by the imposition of death penalty and was hoping Justice Banumathi would understand it does not work as a deterrent.
Jaising recalled the proceedings of Judges Inquiry Committee (JIC) headed by Justice Banumathi to probe into sexual harassment charges against the then sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court Justice S K Gangele leveled by a woman additional district judge.
“Justice Banumathi had displayed her command over trial court work, not intimidated by examining sitting judges in the witness box”, said senior advocate Indira Jaising.
Justice Banumathi, according to Jaising, leaves behind an SC diminished of woman judges from three to two.
The JIC held that although the charge of sexual harassment was not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”, the complainant’s transfer was irregular, hurried, and punitive. The JIC observed and recommended that “she has to be reinstated” if she so wishes.
Advocate Shobha Gupta who practices at the Supreme Court told The Leaflet that Justice Bhanumati was a very fine judge.
“In her retirement we have lost a part of us. She was always very calm, receptive, ready to listen with completely open mind, faces and their baggage never mattered to her”, advocate Shobha said.
Advocate Shobha added that Justice Bhanumati may not know but the whole Bar keeps her in very high esteem for her intelligence and court mannerism.
Senior advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani who is also the President of the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association termed Justice Banumathi as ‘fiercely independent and fearless’ judge.
Justice Banumathi was part of the three-judge bench that confirmed the death sentence on the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape-cum-murder case. She upheld the Delhi High Court’s order refusing anticipatory bail to former finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX media case lodged by the Enforcement Directorate. Later she granted regular bail to Chidambaram in the same case lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) respectively.
A bench led by her had directed the Chief Secretary Uttar Pradesh to constitute a Special Team (SIT) to enquire into the allegations of LLM Shahjahanpur student, who has accused former Union Minister and BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand of sexual harassment and “destroying the lives of several girls”.
Justice Banumathi ruled that the Right to Information (RTI) Act would not apply when it comes to third party access to court documents/information on the judicial side. The RTI activists had criticized this decision.
Earlier this year, CJI S A Bobde had inducted Justice Banumathi in a nine-judge bench to revisit the issue of inter-play between the rights of persons under Article 25 of the Constitution of India and rights of religious denomination under Article 26 of the Constitution of India. The bench, however, could continue with the hearing in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Bir Singh v. Delhi Jal Board, where a constitution bench by the majority of 4:1 had held that candidates from all States and Union lists could apply to the Delhi Jal Board, as it was administered by the Union. Justice Banumathi dissented, and said for posts where the recruitment was done by a Union Territory (or the NCT), only SC/STs specified the Presidential Order for that territory may apply.
Background of Justice Banumathi
Justice Banumathi practiced in the mofussil courts at Tirupattur, Krishnagiri and Harur, in Tamil Nadu. She entered the Tamil Nadu Higher Judicial Service as a direct recruit district judge in 1988 and worked as a district and sessions judge in various districts of the southern state.
She was elevated as a judge of the Madras High Court on April 3, 2003 and was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court on November 16, 2013. From there, she was elevated to the apex court on August 13, 2014.