New Delhi: Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was on Saturday sworn in as the 49th Chief Justice of India. President Droupadi Murmu administered him the oath at a brief ceremony held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union ministers were present at the ceremony.
Justice Lalit’s predecessor, Justice N V Ramana, was also present. Justice Lalit will have a brief tenure of less than three months. He will turn 65 on November 8 when he demits office.
Justice U U Lalit on Friday highlighted three areas on which he intends to work during his 74-day tenure as the head of the judiciary and said he would strive hard to ensure that at least one constitution bench is functioning in the Supreme Court throughout the year.
Justice Lalit said the other two areas are — listing cases for hearing in the apex court and mentioning urgent matters.
Speaking at a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to bid farewell to outgoing CJI N V Ramana, Justice Lalit said he has always believed that role of the top court is to lay down law with clarity and the best possible way to do it is to have larger benches as early as possible so that the issues get clarified immediately.
“So, we will strive hard to say that yes, we will always have at least one constitution bench functioning all throughout the year,” he said.
Justice Lalit said one of the areas in which he intends to work is about the listing of cases before the constitution benches and matters which are specially referred to three-judge benches.
On the issue of listing of matters, he said, “….I must assure you that we will strive hard to make the listing as simple, as clear, and as transparent as possible”. Regarding mentioning urgent matters, Justice Lalit said he would certainly look into it.
“I will have a word with all my learned colleagues on the bench and we will certainly sort that out and very shortly, you will have a clear-cut regime where any urgent matter can freely be mentioned before the respective courts,” he said.
Justice Lalit said, “I have always believed that the role of the Supreme Court is to lay down law with clarity, consistency, and the best possible way to do it is to have larger benches as early as possible, wherever the matters are referred to such benches so that the issues get clarified immediately, the matter has consistency and the people are well aware of what exactly are the contours of the peculiar positions in law.”
While hailing Justice Ramana, who became the CJI on April 24 last year, Justice Lalit pointed out two “stand out” achievements, including that over 250 appointments of judges in the high courts across the country were made as a result of recommendations made by the apex court collegium in the last about 14 months or so.
He said the present strength of judges in the high courts in the country is about 750. Referring to the 250 appointments in high courts, he said almost one-third of the strength is a result of the recommendations made by the collegium headed by Justice Ramana.
He said there may be a time in the future that perhaps a large number of judges of the apex court may be those who have been appointed during this period.
Justice Lalit said the second facet which he noticed was during the Chief Justices’ and Chief Ministers’ conference where Justice Ramana meticulously and very forcefully tried to persuade all the chief ministers and chief justices to concentrate on issues concerning infrastructure in the district and lower judiciary. “That was remarkable,” he said.
Justice Lalit said the results of that conference are resonating now.
“….I must tell and share with you that as a chairperson of NALSA (National Legal Services Authority), one of the projects which we are seeking to implement is to have what is called ‘public defenders office or legal aid defence counsel,” he said.
He said they are insisting that in every district, there must be a legal aid defence counsel office which will be on the lines of a public prosecutor’s office and the issue came up that the office would require some space.
Justice Lalit said with the kind of perseverance shown in the conference of the chief ministers and chief justices’, in every district, the concerned states are willing to provide a minimum of 800 square feet of area to have the office of the public defender.
“This is something which is because of Justice Ramana’s perseverance and the issues that he took up in the chief ministers’ and chief justices’ conference,” he said.
Referring to the three areas, in which he intends to work as the CJI, Justice Lalit said he had a word with the office bearers of the SCBA and the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association earlier in the part of the day.
“It is a tough time for somebody like me. Look at the popularity of my predecessor. How am I going to don that mantle from now hereafter,” Justice Lalit said at the outset.
“Right at the outset, even before I assume office, I express my complete inability to match and be anywhere near this popularity,” he said while adding that the achievements of Justice Ramana are well known.
Justice Lalit said it was very heartening and emotional to hear some of the speeches which were given before the ceremonial bench in the morning and it was the most fitting tribute that a person can actually receive.
Justice Lalit will have a brief tenure of less than three months as the CJI and he would retire on November 8 this year. The retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court is 65.
(With PTI Inputs)