NEW DELHI: Sunday will mark a new beginning for workaholic Justice H L Dattu as he takes over the position of the 42nd Chief Justice of India. A lover of Carnatic music and a devotee of Lord Ganesha, he will face the biggest challenge of bringing down the pendency of cases and striking a perfect balance between the judiciary and executive. He takes his case files home, and is a firm believer of completing the hearing in the cases till the last word and leaves no lacunae.
In January this year, Justice Dattu, while dismissing a PIL pleading for abolishing practice of calling judges as Lordships had said, “What we want is a respectable way of address —“sir”, “my lord”, “your lordship” or in some other manner. People address us as “sir”. We don’t have any objection. It is your outlook to address us respectfully.”
Known for his tough sense of discipline in the court, he believes in giving no adjournments in the cases. Justice Dattu will be hearing the pending review petition on the legality of Section 377 (the decriminalisation of gay sex). He will hold the post for a little over a year until his retirement on December 2, 2015—one of the longest serving in recent years. Soon after his appointment was announced earlier this month, he had said, “I request for the blessing of all citizens of India. May they give me the courage and confidence to take this Institution to the highest stride.”
Justice Dattu is known for his hard work. He takes a limited number of outings with family and friends. He describes former Chief Justice of India S Rajendra Babu as his guru and says that he had taught him the virtue of hard work.
His tenure will begin at a crucial time when the central government is going ahead with its decision to introduce the new National Judicial Appointment Committee (NJAC) after formally disbanding the previous collegiums system for the appointment of judges. He has not shown the inclination towards any side on the issue so far. It would be interesting to see if the bill becomes law and comes under the judicial scrutiny again. In such a case, Justice Dattu will have to take a stand and a decision. The outgoing Chief Justice (Justice Lodha) had refused to pass any order on the petitions demanding to declare the NJAC bill unconstitutional and had said “It’s too early to decide, let it become law first.” The bill is all set to become a law after gaining ratification from 50 percent of states, and calls for the Chief Justice of India to head the new appointment commission.
Things to do
Justice Dattu will be hearing some of the most important cases in the Supreme Court. He is adjudicating upon the fate of Delhi assembly and black money to name a few. He has been heading the bench monitoring the investigations into the 2G spectrum scam and would be deciding the case wherein allegations have been levelled against CBI director Ranjit Sinha for having (allegedly) met the accused involved in the 2G spectrum scam and coal scam. He will have to decide on the crucial issue —the disclosing of the whistle-blower’s name. He would also be hearing the cases regarding CBI’s appeal against dropping of the conspiracy charges against top BJP leaders in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
Justice Dattu commuted the death penalty of terror convict Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar to life term due to his mental illness and an inordinate delay by the government in deciding his mercy plea. Earlier, he was nominated for the Lokpal panel by then CJI Sathasivam. It didn’t get a final nod by the previous government.
Born in a small village, Chikkapattanagere, in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur district, he completed his early education in Kadur, Tarikere and Birur, before moving to Bangalore to pursue higher studies.
Justice Dattu’s father was a school teacher. He said, “It will be the happiest day of his (Justice Dattu’s) life to head the Institution of judiciary”.
Justice Dattu joined the Supreme Court as a judge in December 2008. Born on December 13, 1950, he enrolled as an advocate in 1975 and began practising in Bangalore and dealt with all types of matters civil, criminal, tax and Constitutional cases. Since 1983, he has appeared in various capacities before the Karnataka high court including as government pleader for sales tax department, standing counsel for Income Tax department and later as government advocate. After being designated as a senior standing counsel for I-T department in 1995, Justice Dattu was elevated as a judge of the Karnataka high court.
He was elevated as the Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court in February 2007 and shortly afterwards shifted in the same capacity to the Kerala high court. “At the end of the day, I can only say that I will do my best to improve the Institution. Mine is the best institution in the world,” the newly appointed CJI added.