Spotlight is a series where we shine the, well, spotlight on lawyers, judges and legal experts who made news over the past week.
The President of India on Saturday signed off on the appointment of two High Court judges - Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court Sudhanshu Dhulia and the Gujarat High Court’s Justice J B Pardiwala - as judges of the Supreme Court following the recommendation of the Collegium. With these elevations, the Supreme Court strength will rise to 34 from the current lot of 32 judges.
Here's a look at the careers of the two latest elevations to the apex court.
Born on August 10, 1960 in Lansdowne, Uttarakhand, Justice Dhulia had his formative education in Dehradun and Allahabad. His grandfather, Bhairav Dutt Dhulia, was a freedom fighter and was jailed for his participation in the Quit India Movement.
His father, Justice Keshav Chandra Dhulia, was a judge at Allahabad High Court. Justice Dhulia has two brothers - the elder Himanshu Dhulia, a retired naval officer, and the younger Tigmanshu Dhulia, a national award-winning filmmaker.
Justice Pardiwala was born on August 12, 1965 in Mumbai and graduated from J P Arts College, Valsad. He went on to obtain a degree in law from the KM Mulji Law College in Valsad, in 1988.
Justice Pardiwala belongs to a family of legal professionals; his late father, Burjor Cawasji Pardiwala, practised law for 52 years in the districts of Valsad and Navsari. His grandfather and great grandfather were also lawyers.
The judge started practicing in the Gujarat High Court in 1990 and was elected a member of the Bar Council of Gujarat in 1994. He was later appointed Standing Counsel for the State government in 2002, till his elevation as a judge on February 17, 2011.
Justice Pardiwala has over a thousand reportable judgments on various topics of law.
His appointment to the Supreme Court, interestingly, supersedes all other High Court Chief Justices across India as per Seniority.
Crucially, Justice Pardiwala is also set to be Chief Justice of India - only the third from Gujarat High Court till date.
Advocate General for Assam Devajit Saikia remembers the time when Justice Dhulia took over the reins at the Gauhati High Court.
“He came when we were in the midst of the pandemic. It was a very challenging time in the Gauhati High Court. It was not a normal situation when he had to manage the administrative functioning of the courts," he recounted.
The judge adopted "courageous" steps in order to allow the functioning of the courts in the subordinate judiciary as well as the High Court, in a manner by which both the rights of lawyers and judicial officers as well as the interest of litigants was safeguarded.
The measures, albeit drastic, garnered everybody's praise.
"The challenge lay in the subordinate judiciary. Litigants were suffering as cases were not getting listed and he somehow gave specific instructions at that time. The Government of Assam also lent its full support. He took personal interest in the timely vaccination of all judicial officers and judges of High Court," said Saikia.
Assam's top law officer also felt that apart from having legal prowess, Justice Dhulia is also a compassionate judge.
"That’s why he is very popular among advocates. He never gave importance to face value. He heard the junior advocate and new entrants, and in the same manner, he heard a lawyer of high stature in the Gauhati High Court; there was no distinction. I feel he genuinely deserves a high position in the highest court of the country. We are very proud and wish him all best for his tenure in the Supreme Court," he said.
Justice Dhulia’s younger brother and noted filmmaker Tigmanshu Dhulia felt it was moment of great pride for the family.
“The news gives us immense happiness. What else do I say? It is a very proud moment for the entire family,” he said.
“Yahi kahunga ki apar khushi ho rahi hai our bahut acha lag raha hai sunke. Family ke liye bahut garv ki baat hai (I am extremely happy and feel wonderful hearing this. It is a moment of pride for the family).”
The age gap between Tigmanshu and his brothers prompted him to follow their footsteps in the beginning.
“When I was growing up, they were already quite older. I have only followed them. I have done what they did. Sudhanji theatre karne lage they toh main bhi theatre karne laga tha. Ye log university me padhte the. Ye log pairon pe khade ho gaye aur main theatre me hee laga raha. Yahi log filme dikhate the, fir main filmein banane lag gaya. Yahi kahani hai mere paas (When Sudhanji did theatre, so did I. They went to university. But they moved on in their lives and I continued with theatre. They showed me films, now I make films. This is the story I have).”
Senior Advocate Kamal Nayan Choudhury termed Justice Dhulia as an “extremely compassionate” person.
“It’s a pleasure appearing in his court. In him, we could notice a perfect blend of judicial activism coupled with judicial restraint,” he noted.
Ever since Justice Dhulia became Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court in January 2021, the senior lawyer regularly appeared his court.
“In one such appearance, in a matter pertaining to irregular construction of a building at Silchar, he took stern view and even ordered demolition of the building. What was noticeable was his passion to uphold rule of law though he could have taken a lenient view,” shared Choudhury.
Senior Advocate Jal Unwalla, who practices in the Gujarat High Court, has known Justice Pardiwala for three decades, but has not appeared before him.
“I have never had the exposure to his Court because I have never appeared in his Court and he never took up my matters. It was understood between us, as we are very close friends. When he was elevated, it was decided and I said that I’d rather lose a good judge than a good friend,” he said.
Unwalla, as a result, has never seen Justice Pardiwala's courtroom in the last ten years or so, with the only exception being the recent live streaming of court proceedings.
"Now that in the last two years the court proceedings have come live on YouTube, before that I had never gone to his court. From whatever I have heard from people, it is commendable,” he shared.
Elaborating on ties that go back 30 years, Unwalla said that Justice Pardiwala was born to a very well-known, well-reputed family in Valsad.
“Justice Pardiwala came to the office of Senior Advocate KJ Sethna, who passed away last year. In 1992, I decided to do law. I joined Mr Sethna as a law student when Justice Pardiwala was already a lawyer. Justice Pardiwala is about six-and-a-half or seven years senior to me,” he said.
Unwalla is all praise for the "kind, humble, down-to-earth soul" that is Justice Pardiwala.
"He was always way ahead of his age and he is one of the most soft-spoken and sober human beings I have seen, apart from having humility and sobriety as a judge and a lawyer also. It spoke volumes," he said.
As a lawyer, Unwalla found that Pardiwala had an "enormous persuasive power" and was able to simplify and explain the most complicated of things.
"I have seen him as a lawyer and as a judge as far as the living style is concerned. After becoming a judge, he was wedded to his work. He is a wonderful husband, son, father and brother," he revealed.
On the Collegium's decision to recommend Justice Pardiwala, the senior lawyer thinks that the move has only increased the hope, faith and the trust in the hearts and the minds of the people.
"I hail and salute them for picking up such honest judges," he said.
During his time at the Gauhati High Court, Justice Dhulia decided on the claim that government-funded madrasas were minority institutions established and administered by the minority community. In that judgment, he held that though a religious minority has a right to establish and administer an educational institution of its choice, once such an institution starts getting maintained wholly out of State funds, religious instructions cannot be imparted in such an institution.
AG Saikia says that the judgment authored by the Chief Justice in February, 2022, has not been challenged till date.
In a public interest litigation in relation to violent clashes during the eviction drive in the state, Justice Dhulia in October, 2021, famously remarked,
His Bench highlighted the plight of women prisoners, labeled foreigners, and their children who continued to languish in jails during the raging COVID-19 pandemic. It had directed the Court-appointed High Powered Committee to consider the fate of such persons under “special circumstances” during the pandemic’s second wave.
A verdict from the Gujarat High Court on the topic of marital rape created a lot of buzz in 2018. The judge who authored it was none other than Justice Pardiwala, who said,
“A law that does not give married and unmarried women equal protection creates conditions that lead to the marital rape.”
The judge was hearing a case where a woman had accused her husband of rape. The opinion given in an expansive 150-page judgment is still considered a progressive step towards criminalisation of an act, which is often debated upon and is currently under judicial scrutiny of the Delhi High Court, which is yet to pronounce its decision on the issue.
In the same year, the judge heard a case seeking quashing of criminal proceedings against the parents-in-law of a woman, who had met her husband through a social media platform. Without mincing his words, Justice Pardiwala remarked,
“This is one of those modern marriages fixed on Facebook, therefore, bound to fail.”
The Court, however, suggested settlement, given the age of the persons involved in the matter.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Justice Pardiwala was part of the Bench that declined, for a third time, to give permission for the conduct of the Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Ahmedabad.
The hearing in that case began at 00:45 AM and the order was pronounced at 2:00AM.
The same Bench, headed by then Chief Justice Vikram Nath, constantly urged the State government to pull up its socks to deal with various issues posed by the pandemic. In another order, the Bench urged the State government to draw up a policy to impose community service as a penalty on those who failed to wear face masks in public places.
Later that year, the Bench expressed displeasure over government inaction in implementing its directions on the disposal of claims made by Tribal communities under the Forest Rights Act.