Justice P N Bhagwati, pioneer of judicial activism, passes away

Universal Group deeply condoles the demise of Former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati, a pioneer of judicial activism who introduced the concept of PILs in India (died on 15th June 2017). He was 95.

Bhagwati, whose younger brother Jagdish is an economist, is survived by wife Prabhavati and three daughters.

The 17th Chief Justice of India, Bhagwati held the post from 12th July 1985 till 20th December 1986, having been appointed a judge of the Supreme Court in 1973. Before that, he had served as Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court.

As a Supreme Court judge, Bhagwati introduced the concepts of public interest litigation (PIL) and absolute liability. As a champion of PILs, he held that there was no need for any locus standi – the right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in court – to move court over fundamental rights. He held that prisoners too had such rights.

One of his key judgments was in a 1978 case over the impounding of Maneka Gandhi’s passport in which he explained the concept of right to life. He ruled that a person’s movement could not be restricted and reaffirmed the right to hold a passport. Maneka had challenged a July 1977 order of the Delhi regional passport officer to surrender her passport in public interest, contending that it violated her right to life and liberty.

Bhagwati was the lone dissenting judge in the Minerva Mill case who upheld the 42nd Constitution Amendment during the Emergency. The Amendment was struck down by a majority verdict. In the case, the Supreme Court provided key clarifications on the interpretation of the “basic structure” doctrine of the Constitution. The Court ruled that the Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is limited by the statute and that it cannot exercise this limited power to grant itself unlimited power.

During his Life time he penned down his autobiography “My Tryst with Justice” published by Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt Ltd.

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