Who is Justice Jasti Chelameswar? A look at the Supreme Court’s No. 2 judge

He is the newsmaker of the week, and the second senior most judge in the country.
Who is Justice Jasti Chelameswar? A look at the Supreme Court’s No. 2 judge
Who is Justice Jasti Chelameswar? A look at the Supreme Court’s No. 2 judge

He has sent a shockwave across the country along with three other judges. He has kick started a debate on the administration of the Supreme Court, and the manner in which the Chief Justice of India operates. He is the newsmaker of the week, and the second senior most judge in the country.

So who exactly is Justice Jasti Chelameswar? How did he come to lead an unprecedented rebellion in India’s Supreme Court?

Justice Chelameswar, champion of transparency

Justice Chelameswar has been a part of the Supreme Court since October 2011. During his tenure in India’s apex court, he has made the news several times for his judgements, especially ones where he dissented from the popular view.

Notably, he is one of the few sitting judges to speak in favour of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) which wants to nullify the Collegium system for appointment of judges.

Since 1993, the Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Collegium which is led by the Chief Justice of India and three other senior most judges in order. From time to time, the system has attracted scrutiny from senior lawyers, and allegations of cronyism and nepotism have cropped up.

Hence the National Judicial Appointments Commission BIll was mooted. Through this BIll, judges were to be appointed by a six member committee. The committee was to comprise the two most senior judges of the SC, the CJI, the Union Law Minister and two other eminent persons selected by a committee.

The committee will be selected by a panel of  CJI, PM and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

What is critical though is that the system allows for vetoing of any appointment, provided at least two members speak against it.

However, the Act was struck down by the Supreme Court and declared unconstitutional in October 2016.

Justice Chelameswar the only judge in the Constitution bench to have spoken in favour of the NJAC, when the bench struck down the controversial law.

"Proceedings of the collegium were absolutely opaque and inaccessible both to public and history, barring occasional leaks," Justice Chelameswar had then said. "Such a state of affairs does not either enhance the credibility of the institution or good for the people of this country," he had added.

Later, Justice Chelameswar refused to attend Collegium meetings, and once he became the No. 2 judge in the Supreme Court, a decision was taken to make all Collegium recommendations public.

Significant judgments

Some of the significant judgments that he was a part of include the invalidation of Section 66A, as he opined in favour of freedom of speech in 2015.

"What may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another. What may cause annoyance or inconvenience to one may not cause annoyance or inconvenience to another,” the judgment by him and Justice Rohington Fali Nariman had said.

More recently, he was heading the SC bench which had raised the issue of privacy being a fundamental right in the context of Aadhaar. This only paved the way of a nine-judge bench of the apex court to declare privacy to be a fundamental right.

Earlier he was part of the three-judge bench which had said that no Indian can be denied government subsidies and other services just because they do not have Aadhaar.  

Early life

Born in Pedda Muttevi, Movya Mandal in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh on June 23, 1953, Justice Chelameswar had studied in Hindu High School at Machilipatnam in his hometown. He then went on to study at Madras Loyola College, Chennai and graduated in Physics. It was in 1976 that he graduated in Law from Andhra University, and started practicing law.

Nineteen years on, he was designated as a senior counsel in 1995, and was appointed as the Additional Advocate General of the Andhra government in October of the same year.

Less than two years later, he was promoted as an Additional Judge of High Court of Andhra Pradesh and subsequently as a judge in May, 1999. Eight years later, Justice Chelameswar was elevated as the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court in 2007, and later transferred to Kerala HC as the CJ.

It was in 2011 that the judge was elevated to the Supreme Court of India. He is set to retire later this year, on June 22.

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