Justice Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal

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A profile

The Times of India, Jul 13 2015

Dhananjay Mahapatra

He was the 36th Chief Justice of India. Will he figure among the great judges of the Supreme Court? In the last few years, and especially in the last 10 days, many advocates and politicians have asked this question.

Their question was logical. In 1995, he was in Delhi high court. An important case provides glimpses of his personality as a judge and a human being.

Rashtriya Mukti Morcha president Ravinder Kumar had filed a PIL in the HC accusing then PM P V Narasimha Rao of bailing out his minority government by purchasing votes of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs. Justices Sabharwal and D K Jain asked the CBI to examine RMM's claim that the bank accounts of JMM MPs received huge cash deposits around the time the Rao government won the trust vote in Parliament.

The CBI started digging into the scam. Skeletons tumbled out. The bench ordered registration of an FIR. But the CBI did a cover up. It slapped mild provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act against the accused. The bench saw through the game and observed “it is your director who has diluted the FIR“.

The HC observing that the CBI director had diluted the FIR was a huge story. The CBI sent officers to the PTI office and put pressure to issue a clarification. Finally, PTI was forced to issue a clarification quoting the then CBI counsel.

Ultimately carrying the pleasure of vindication, the story ran ­ `HC reiterates: CBI director diluted the FIR in JMM case'.

He took oath as a judge of the Supreme Court on January 28, 2000, the day the SC was celebrating its golden jubilee. Nearly seven years later, he retired as CJI on January 13, 2007.

During his tenure as a Supreme Court judge and then as CJI, he penned several important judgments, which even his detractors found to be bold and forward thinking.Directing infusion of reforms in police was one such which endeared him to his critics.

As a judge, he had great respect for constitutional institutions. But that did not deter him from asserting that howsoever high the institution, its decisions would always be subject to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, especially if there were complaints that these decisions violated the citizens' fundamental rights.

In Raja Ram Pal judgment, delivered just two days before his retirement, Justice Sabharwal heading a five-judge bench had upheld Parliament's decision to expel those MPs linked to the cash-for-vote scam. He had said, “Constitutional system of government abhors absolutism and it being the cardinal principle of our Constitution that no one, howsoever lofty , can claim to be the sole judge of the power given under the Constitution, mere coordinate constitutional status, or even the status of an exalted constitutional functionaries, does not disentitle this court from exercising its jurisdiction of judicial review of action which part-take the character of judicial or quasijudicial decision.”

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