May 7, 2010, 8:05 PM IST
Chief Justice Balakrishnan's Last Big Case
By Tripti Lahiri
The Ambanis finally got a verdict from India's Supreme Court in their
gas pricing dispute, in no small part because Indian Chief Justice
Konakuppakatil Gopinathan Balakrishnan turns 65 on Wednesday, the
official retirement age. Chief Justice Balakrishnan, who was elevated
to the position in January 2007, was the first Dalit, a community at
the bottom of the caste hierarchy, to hold that position.
As chief justice he has presided over rulings in hundreds of cases,
with the Reliance verdict being one of the most widely watched.
Chief Justice Konakuppakatil Gopinathan retires next week. On May 7,
the chief justice signed off on a 268-page judgment written by Justice
B. Sudershan Reddy that quoted Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, father of
India's Constitution, and "Globalization and it Discontents" author
"The neo-liberal agenda has increasingly eviscerated the state of
stature and power, bringing vast benefits to the few, modest benefits
for some, while leaving everybody else, the majority, behind," said
the judgment. "Historically, and all across the globe, predatory forms
of capitalism seem to organize themselves, first and foremost, around
the extractive industries that seek to exploit the vast, but
exhaustible, natural resources."
Another judge on the bench, P. Sathasivam, wrote his own judgment,
declining to put his name under the long disquisition on neoliberalism
and market forces.
The verdict relied in part on something Justice Balakrishnan wrote a
couple of years ago in another case before he was in his current post.
"The people of the entire country has a stake in the natural gas and
its benefit has to be shared by the whole country," he wrote in 2004
in Association of Natural Gas & Ors. V. Union of India & Ors. "There
should be just and reasonable use of natural gas for national
For more about the winners and losers from the verdict, read this post.
It's been a busy month for Chief Justice Balakrishnan, with some 11
cases disposed of, including a ruling that police cannot force
suspects to undergo questioning under the influence of "truth serums,"
or chemicals meant to lower their defenses.
The actress Khushboo was able to heave a sigh of relief after the
court last month dismissed criminal cases filed against the South
Indian star after she made some remarks in 2005 about the increasing
prevalence of premarital sex.
There have been some odd judgments too. In August 2009, the judge
stayed a lower court's ruling granting the permission sought by a city
administration to have a mentally retarded woman who had become
pregnant while at a government-run facility undergo an abortion. The
chief justice felt that was not in her best interests even though he
conceded that she might not be capable of caring for the child by
herself. An expert body told the court the woman's mental status
affected her "ability for independent socio-occupational functioning
After these busy years, the chief justice must be looking forward to
the break. According to a speech he gave in 2009, the average Indian
judge disposes of 1,200 cases a year and has only about 25 minutes to
devote to each case (although it's safe to assume the Ambanis got a
lot more time than that).
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