Skip to main content

Gujarat advocates' "rare upsurge" against controversial transfer of a top judge

Justice Akil Kureshi
By RK Misra*
In a rare show of solidarity over the transfer of Justice Akil Kureshi to Bombay High Court, the Bar in the Western India state of Gujarat went on strike and relented only after a meeting with Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi. Rarely has the transfer of a High Court judge created the sort of upsurge in the legal fraternity in Gujarat as was witnessed when Justice Akil Kureshi was moved to Bombay. The Bar struck work, and in one voice urged the apex court to reconsider it’s decision.
On October 29, the Supreme Court Collegium had recommended transfer of Justice Kureshi, the second most senior judge of the Gujarat High Court to the Bombay High Court. It also cleared the elevation of Gujarat High Court chief justice R Subhash Reddy as a Supreme Court judge. 
Ideally, after justice Reddy’s promotion, Justice Kureshi should have been made acting chief justice. But on November 1, the Centre issued a notification appointing Justice A Dave to this post and asked Justice Kureshi to take charge in Mumbai on or before November 15.
On November 2, the government issued a fresh notification, ’in supersession’ of the earlier one, and appointed justice Kureshi to perform the duties of the chief justice of the Gujarat High Court till this transfer. So, in effect, Justice Kureshi was acting chief justice only for a very short time.
This reportedly came about after the chief justice of India (CJI) took up the matter with the government. On November 3, in an interaction with the media in the Supreme Court press lounge, Chief Justice Gogoi admitted the ‘mistake’ and said that it has been ‘corrected’. "Mistakes do happen”, he said.
No sooner was it known that Justice Kureshi has been transferred to Mumbai, speculation was rife in legal circles that the move to transfer him was done by the government to prevent him from taking over as the acting chief justice of the Gujarat High Court.
The Gujarat High Court Advocates Association (GHAA) called an urgent meeting immediately after the news of his transfer on November 1, and passed a unanimous decision stating that it finds no reason to justify his transfer from senior-most puisne judge of the Gujarat High Court to number five in the Bombay High Court 'ostensibly in the interest of better administration of justice’.
The resolution said that the "Bar believes that such a transfer is unjustified and certainly has no connection with better administration of justice. On the contrary it impinges on the independence of the judiciary. It also resolved to deprecate and condemn the transfer.” The transfer is totally unwarranted, uncalled for and unjust . Not only did it decide to strike work indefinitely but the association also decided to challenge the transfer through a writ petition.
Said Yatin Oza, president of GHAA, “The urgent meeting saw a record attendance and feelings of injustice to a judge of immaculate professional credentials ran strong in the gathered members”.
Twenty senior advocates of the Gujarat High Court in a letter also made an impassioned plea to the five member Supreme Court collegium to reconsider the transfer decision. 
The advocates included, among others, Krishnakant Vakharia, Bhalchandra Shah, Vasuben P Shah, Shirish Sanjanwala, Mihir Thakore, Yatin Oza, Saurabh Soparkar, Mihir Joshi, Prashant Desai, Rustom Marshall, Manish Bhatt, Yogesh Lakhani, Percy Kavina, Deven Parikh, Rashesh Sanjanwala, Dhaval Dave, Shalin Mehta, Mehul Shah, Anshin Desai and Navin Pahwa. All big legal names in Gujarat.
The letter stated that Justice Kureshi is currently the senior most judge of the Gujarat High Court after Justice MR Shah who has been recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court and Justice KS Jhaveri who is currently the chief justice of the Orissa High Court. 
"He is one of the finest judges of the High court who is well respected for his intellect as well as for his dignified conduct both on and off the Bench. Even a brief look at his judgements would make it apparent that he decides without fear or favour as indeed every judge must."
The letter points out that there were whispers going around for quite some time that Justice Kureshi would be sidelined because many of his judgements did not find favour with the present dispensation.
”The sudden transfer of a senior judge, otherwise in line for appointment as acting chief justice of our court to puisne judge at number five in seniority in another court, sends an absolutely wrong signal, affects morale of independent judges and does great disservice to the institution”, the letter said.
It reiterated that in the past, the country has witnessed attempts by an assertive Executive to subvert and overwhelm the judiciary as it was the only institution which could rein in their misuse of power.
"An individual judge wages a lonely battle at great sacrifice and risk. If at times like these, the institution does not stand behind a judge as his or her pillar of strength and lend support, it would be failing in it’s constitutional duty at a crucial moment in our country’s history”, it stated.
The GHCAA president who along with his office bearers called on Chief Justice Gogoi and had more than an hour’s meeting, refused to divulge the details, but said that their decision to postpone their strike should be indicative enough. "The meeting was constructive”, he added.
Lawyers, across the board, have nothing but praise for Justice Kureshi. "Even as a lawyer, soft spoken Justice Kureshi’ s integrity was above board. He is a rock solid judicial person. It has never mattered to him who a person is, whether you are the junior-most or the senior-most. He is a judge of meticulous credentials, unimpeachable integrity and unassailable grace”, is how veteran legal luminary Krishnakant Vakharia describes him. Another legal veteran, Sudhir Nanavaty too had nothing but praise for him.
Senior advocate and former president of the Supreme Court Bar association Dushyant Dave termed the transfer of justice Kureshi as the last straw on the camel’s back and voiced concern whether the judiciary could recover from this move to assert its strong independence and impartiality, at least in Gujarat.
"One really wishes that the Collegium, especially of the extraordinary caliber as at present, would venture to cross-check the input or materials that concerned authorities may have placed before the collegium from independent sources, especially members of the Bar and former Supreme Court judges who came from Gujarat high court”, he stated.
Oza said that Justice Kureshi was being penalized by the present government for his judicial pronouncements. These pertained to the lokayukta case in which he had ruled against the Narendra Modi- led Gujarat government by upholding the decision of the governor in appointing retired Gujarat High Court judge RA Mehta to the post and for his decision to send Amit Shah, now BJP president, to judicial custody in the Sohrabuddin alleged fake encounter case. 
"The lokayukta order of the Gujarat High Court was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court”, he points out. Numerous other lawyers echo this line of thought.
On his part, Justice Kureshi remains unperturbed. He has shunned all media efforts to seek out his views and dutifully joined his new charge in Mumbai.
The highly respected judicial officer has a Gandhian legacy. His grandfather, Abdul Kadir Bawazeer, was a close friend and lifelong associate of Mahatma Gandhi and came to India along with him from South Africa. His father, Hamid Kureshi was born in the Sabarmati Ashram and grew up playing in the lap of the Mahatma. 
He was a Gujarat High Court advocate and was the head of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust. He passed away in 2016. In keeping with his last wishes, he was cremated as he did not desire to waste space which would otherwise go in the ritual burial.
With such an illustrious legacy, it is no wonder that Justice Kureshi too has made a mark in his field.
---
*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: Wordsmiths & Newsplumbers

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
Kudos to the legal fraternity and I hope better sense prevails in the powers that be.

TRENDING

Allow international human rights observers, media to access Kashmir: US lawmakers

Counterview Desk
In a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two members of the American Congress, Pramila Jayapal and James McGovern, raising "significant concerns" about what they call "humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir”, quoting "credible reports" from journalists and advocates on the ground" have said that "the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region.”

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Now clampdown on rally, arrest of pro-freedom activists in Pak-occupied Kashmir

Counterview Desk
In a fresh evidence, international human rights organizations are not just confining their attention on the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), whose special status was taken away by the Government of India in early August, leading to an unprecedented clampdown on the region. They have simultaneously begun focusing on the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), where the situation is said to be worsening.
Thus, the International Human Rights Council ((IHRC) Hong Kong (HK), a top human rights organisation, said to be working towards to the promotion peace, equality, fundamental rights and social justice “as enunciated in the UN Human Rights Charter and other instruments of human rights”, has noted now a new wave of independence movement has struck PoK.  With offices in US, UK, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and having Kirity Roy and Lenin Raghuvanshi as IHRC office bearers from India, in a statement, it has claimed that on September 7 one of the biggest pro-Independenc…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are about 180 units in in the to…

Bullet train impact report Japan agency property: Govt of India tells Gujarat NGO

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has told Gujarat-based environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) that the detailed report of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives on their visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra assess the impact of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on farmers is not its property, but that of JICA.

NHSRCL letter to PSS, signed by activists Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant and Swati Desai, comes following the latter’s request to it on June 10 for the report. PSS was one of the NGOs that represented JICA on the project, saying, if implemented, it would adversely impact farmers, even as pointing towards the fact that the project itself is unviable and Indian Railways needs to invest, instead, more on upgrading the present railway infrastructure.
Following the NHSRCL reply, PSS has shot a second letter to JICA, insisting that the latter should share a copy of the report, even as providing details of the …

Karma tribal festival an occasional to campaign for tribal rights: IPMSDL

By Our Representative
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), in a solidarity statement has suggested that the current Karam festival of Central India -- which seeks to promote sisterhood, friendship, cultural unity, and closer link to nature -- should be the occasion to campaign against alleged efforts to violently drive away forest dwelling communities from their forest homes.
"Millions are threatened to lose lands and livelihood under the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006", the statement States, adding, "As corporate interests continues to enter tribal territories and extract profit from its natural resources, indigenous people are pushed to further marginalization and discrimination."
Asserting that indigenous movement in India "remains steadfast in keeping their culture, deeply linked to their lands alive by carrying out their heritage and struggles", IPMSDL, even as extending "…

Historic Chikhalda, temples, mosques submerged, activists 'rescue' Gandhi idol

By Medha Patkar
The first farmer of Asia was born in Chikhalda, if one is to believe archaeological researchers. A historic village, 50 percent of its population is of Hindus and 50 percent of Muslims, yet it has always remained peaceful. Chikhalda has struggled to save water, land and people along Narmada river.

US Air Force expert smells regional security threat following Chandrayaan mission

Counterview Desk
A United States Air Force expert, writing on India’s Chandrayaan -2 mission, has expressed the apprehension that Indian moon probe’s “failure” won’t stop an Asian space race that “threatens regional security.” Affiliated with the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Wendy Whitman Cobb, who is Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, believes like other space powers, India may be “seeking to improve its technology”, but advances can “also bring greater security concerns.”
Currently, admits Cobb, “These efforts have been primarily civilian and peaceful in nature.” However, India’s turn toward the military uses of space, so much so that lately it has been developing its own military satellites providing services such as remote sensing, tracking and communications “with greater frequency” has begun to “concern” the neighbours.
In her disclosure statement to an article published in the e-journal “The Conversation” Cobb, however, states that whatever…

South Gujarat wastewater carrying pipeline damaged, 'harming' farmlands

By Our Representative
The pipeline carrying industrial wastewater to the Gulf of Khambhat from Jhagadia industrial estate in Bharuch district has been found to have damaged for the eighth time over the last one and a half months. The crack, says a local environmental organisation, has occurred at Hansot, endangering agricultural farms.