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The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

Aditya AK

Justice Konakuppakatil Gopinathan Balakrishnan was elevated to the Supreme Court on June 8, 2000. At the apex court, he served for a total of 3625 days, till he retired on May 12, 2010. Justice KG Balakrishnan was appointed Chief Justice of India on January 14, 2007, a post he served in for a total of 1,214 days, the fifth longest tenure in history.

After an LL.B. from GLC Ernakulam, Justice Balakrishnan enrolled as an advocate and began practising in 1968. In September 1985, he was appointed judge of the Kerala High Court. He was then transferred to the Gujarat High Court, where he would become Chief Justice in 1998; in 1999 he was made the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.

Balakrishnan, the first CJI from the state of Kerala as well as the first Dalit CJI, was involved in the passing of 603 orders and judgments in the Supreme Court. Post-retirement, he was appointed Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.

It was only post retirement that allegations against Justice Balakrishnan came to the fore, with several Supreme Court judges as well as the Kerala High Court levelling allegations of impropriety and corruption. Most recently, he was accused by former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju J. of attempting to use his influence in order to elevate Justice Dinakaran of the Madras High Court to the apex court.

Month-wise distribution of rulings

Justice Balakrishnan maintained a healthy average of more than 50 judgments and orders a month. In his most productive month, August, he delivered a total of 71 judgements and orders. His least productive months were November (32) and December (41).

The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

Day-wise productivity

The average number of judgments and orders passed by Justice Balakrishnan hovers around the 0.2 mark. It is interesting to note that his productivity increased markedly after he was appointed Chief Justice in January 2007. Up until then, he had delivered 346 judgments and orders in 2,411 days, at 0.14 per day. After he became CJI, that number almost doubled to 0.21, with 257 judgments and orders delivered in 1,214 days.

The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

Year-wise distribution

In 2008, the year after he was appointed Chief Justice, Balakrishnan J. delivered a whopping 114 judgements. The trend continued the following year, with 73 judgments and orders. The least productive years were 2000 (21), the year he was elevated to the apex court and 2006 (25), the year before he became Chief Justice of India.

YearNo. of judgments/orders

Bench-wise distribution

Justice Balakrishnan was involved in a total of 210 three-judge bench orders and judgments. To put that in perspective, that is 34.82% of all rulings delivered by him. He has delivered 57 orders and judgments sitting with Justice BN Srikrishna and has been involved in 39 instances where a case was decided by a Constitution bench. He has sat with four CJI’s  – GB Pattanaik, VN Khare, RC Lahoti and YK Sabharwal JJ.

The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan
The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan
The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan
The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

Case-type distribution

The majority of matters decided by Justice Balakrishnan were civil appeals (282);  with orders and judgments in 202 criminal appeals. During his 10 year tenure, he heard matters pertaining to writ jurisdiction a mere 38 times (31 civil and 7 criminal writ petitions). Quite interestingly, the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction was invoked three times. He also decided 4 Special References and 3 Election Petitions.

The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan
The Verdictum: Former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan

Notable judgments

Justice Balakrishnan authored around 133 judgments in various areas of law. In 2006, the dissolution of Bihar’s state assembly by then Governor Buta Singh was challenged before the Supreme Court. While the majority of the five-judge bench held the dissolution to be unconstitutional, Justice Balakrishnan was one of the judges to give a dissenting opinion.

In Raja Ram Pal v. Speaker of Lok Sabha, he was part of the Constitution bench hearing a challenge to the expulsion of MPs involved in the cash-for-query scam. The court held that the expulsion is subject to judicial review, albeit in rare cases.

Balakrishnan J. was part of another Constitution bench decision in Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court held that the creamy layer of OBCs should be excluded from reservations under the 93rd Amendment Act.

He was also part of benches that delivered a number of progressive judgments. In State of Himachal Pradesh v. Mango Ram, Justice Balakrishnan berated the lower court for assuming that the girl had given her consent after falsely determining that she was over the age of 16.

In 2010, actress Khushboo faced criminal defamation charges for her comments on pre-marital sex published in a magazine. Then Chief Justice Balakrishnan was part of the three judge bench that upheld her freedom of speech and set aside the high court judgment convicting her for the said offences. In MC Mehta v. Union of India, he was part of the bench that ordered all mining activity in the Aravallis to be suspended in order to prevent ecological degradation.

In 2007, he also refused to grant a stay on conviction to Sanjay Dutt pending his appeal against the TADA charges.

His moment of controversy came a couple months before he retired in 2010. He initiated a suo motu challenge to a Delhi High Court judgment which held that the Chief Justice of India would come under the purview of the RTI Act. Quite interestingly, a couple of years later, NGO Common Cause approached the Supreme Court to undertake an inquiry into allegations of the former Chief Justice having disproportionate assets. However, no such inquiry was initiated even though a few judges, including Justice VR Krishna Iyer, had hinted at the same.

Image taken from here.