NEW DELHI: Justice B V Nagarathna will take the first step towards becoming first woman chief justice of India (CJI) on Tuesday when she takes oath as a Supreme Court Judge but with a scheduled tenure of 36 days as the head of judiciary, from September 24-October 29, 2027, it would be the third shortest in the 77 year history of SC.
Among the nine who would be administered oath of office as SC Judges in the biggest auditorium on Tuesday by CJI N V Ramana, there will be two more who would go on to head the judiciary. Justice Vikram Nath would be CJI for seven months and 21 days from February 2 till September 23, 2027. After Justice Nagarathna, senior advocate P S Narasimha would head the judiciary for six months and four days from October 30, 2027 till May 3, 2028.
Justice Kamal Narain Singh had the shortest tenure of 18 days as CJI, from November 25 to December 13, 1991. Justice S Rajendra Babu had the second shortest tenure of 30 days from May 2-May 31, 2004, more than half of which was consumed by the summer break.
Justice J C Shah had a tenure of 36 days as CJI from December 17 1970 to January 21, 1971, overcoming strong rumours that the Union government wanted to supersede him by bringing an outsider. The SC had till then followed the convention of the senior most judge taking the mantle from the retiring CJI. It was only in 1973 that Justice A N Ray, fourth in seniority, was appointed as CJI superseding Justices J M Shelat, K S Hegde and A N Grover. All three had resigned.
Justice Nagaratha’s 36 day tenure as CJI would be identical to that of Justice Shah. Her father, Justice E S Venkataramiah, too had a short tenure of six months as CJI, from June 19 till December 17, 1989. It will be the second instance of father-child duo becoming CJI, after the Chandrachuds. While Justice Y V Chandrachud will have the unbreachable record holder for the longest tenure as CJI of seven years and four months, his son Justice D Y Chandrachud would be CJI for two years and two days from November 9, 2022 till November 10, 2024.
Justice Gopal Ballav Patnaik spent just 40 days as CJI, from November 8 to December 18, 2002, with the last few days of his chief justiceship being during the winter break.
With the nine new Judges taking oath on Tuesday, the working strength of SC would be 33, leaving just one vacancy. This increment in the number of Judges has allowed CJI Ramana to create history on Tuesday by setting up nine three-judge benches along with three two-judge benches. Never before, the SC had so many three-judge benches on a single day.
When the SC began its journey on January 26, 1950, it had a sanctioned strength of eight, including the first CJI Harilal Jekisondas Kania, who died in office on November 6, 1951, which cut short his scheduled tenure by four years.
The first increase in the sanctioned strength of SC Judges to 11 took place in 1956 on the initiative of the fifth Chief Justice Sudhi Ranjan Das. Four years later, sixth CJI Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha, shortly after becoming the head of judiciary, persuaded a “skeptical PM Jawaharlal Nehru that more Judges were needed to cope with an increased workload and increase of cases in arrears.” According to renowned SC chronicler G H Gadbois, “Nehru told Sinha that he was under the impression that judges didn’t work very long hours.” In 1960, the sanctioned strength was increased to 14 judges.
In 1977, the strength of SC was increased by four to 18 judges during the chief justiceship of M H Beg, who was controversially appointed as CJI by superseding Emergency era hero SC judge H R Khanna, who penned his lone historic dissent on a five-judge bench in A D M Jabalpur case in 1976. Justice Khanna had tendered his resignation on being superseded.
This was the second time in succession that the Indira Gandhi government had resorted to the devious tool of supersession to anoint convenient judges as CJI, the first being Justice A N Ray, who in 1973 superseded three – Justices Jayendra Manilal Shelat, Kawdoor Sadanand Hegde and Amar Nath Grover.
Previously, all 13 CJIs were appointed as per the tradition of senior most SC Judge succeeding a retiring CJI. The three superseded judges, all senior to Justice Ray, lost no time in tendering their resignations. The tool of supersession has never been used since then by any government after appointment of Justice Beg as CJI in 1977.
The next increase in sanctioned strength, from 18 to 26, was notified by the government on May 9, 1986 during the chief justiceship of P N Bhagwati, who is said to be opposed to such increase and wanted the court to be lean and thin with permanent larger benches for constitutional matters and small benches for hearing appeals.
Despite spiralling litigation after the opening up of the economy in the 1990s, the SC had to wait for 23 years for the next increase in sanctioned strength from 26 to 31, which happened in 2009 during the tenure of Justice K G Balakrishnan as CJI. The final increment in the sanctioned strength to 34 was notified by the government in 2019 after the then CJI Ranajan Gogoi wrote a long letter requesting this. However, his suggestion to increase the retirement age of HC judges from present 62 years to 65 years is still pending consideration of the government.
Nagarathna set to have 3rd shortest term as CJI – Times of India