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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016
Chief Justice Gajendragadkar (1981)

Mr. H. M. Seervai, on behalf of the Advocate General said:

In the unavoidable absence of the learned Advocate General at Nagpur, where he will be joining a Reference that will be made there, he has asked me on his behalf, on behalf of the Bar and on my own, to join in this Reference.

My Lord the Chief Justice, if I may say so, has rightly referred to the fact that the Constitution Bench of Justice Chagla and Mr. Justice Gajendragadkar was the strongest Constitutional Bench which we have ever had. It is however, a remarkable example of his self-abnegation that all or almost all the judgments were delivered by Chief Justice Chagla. Chagla himself would be the first to acknowledge the solid and massive assistance which he received from Justice Gajendragadkar.

Though his voice is silent today, I recall how on January 11, 1957 (when he was elevated to the Bench of the Supreme Court) in a speech of great felicity he rightly emphasized that the Judiciary had to secure the confidence of the public in the administration of justice. He did not look upon the Bar as superfluous or redundant. On the contrary, he knew from experience that a strong Bar makes a strong Bench.

I had not the privilege to know him at the Bar as I was too junior with too little work. But the moment the Constitution was introduced and matters were heard by the Constitution Bench we came to know each other across the Bar. He had great humility, although his emphatic modes of speech might have concealed it. I remember that in Fram Balsara's case, when Sir Nusserwanji Engineer opened the case, Gajendragadkar said to him "I am not familiar with the subject and I would like to hear a full argument." That humility was also shown in another incident. He, Mr. Justice Venkatrama Iyer and I were talking together when Gajendragadkar said to me: "You know, as Judges we lose the industry which we had as Counsel. Not so Venkatrama Iyer. Every night he sits with the brief of the matters before the Court and prepares the case of both sides, for the Supreme Court receives less assistance from Counsel than the District Judges receive in Bombay." A few months before his death, he spoke of his first appearance at the Bar; and said that it was a disaster. He had filed a petition and confident of his oratorical powers and his gift of thought, he believed that he had only to argue the case before the Court. The petition came up before Sir Lallubhai Shah. Mr. Govindlal Thakore, a formidable leader of the Appellate Side Bar, appeared against him and raised a preliminary objection that as no affidavit had been filed, the petition should be dismissed. Sir Lallubhai Shah, a kindly judge whom Gajendragadkar ever after referred to as "the man of compassion" saw what was happening. He said to Gajendragadkar, "How soon will you file the affidavit?" With the optimism of youth he said "in two days." The Judge gave him seven days and adjourned the case for a fortnight when Gajendragadkar scored the first of his many triumphs at the Bar.

Of his work in the Supreme Court, My Lord the Chief Justice has made a reference to the leading cases which he decided. I think the time has not come to evaluate his work as a Judge. But I remember the meeting, in which he supported Legal Aid, where he said that after he ceased to be the Chief Justice of India, he had given up reading the Law Reports. The only law book which he read was a book on the Constitutional Law of India which contained a severe criticism of his judgments. It is a measure of his tolerance and his belief in the freedom of thought that criticism did not prevent him from lavishing praise upon his critic which it would be improper to repeat.

But my close personal friendship with Gajendragadkar began after he ceased to be a Judge and after a grave ailment and a grave operation which he underwent in 1975. We met frequently and it was a pleasure to meet him because his interests were not confined to law but, as My Lord the Chief Justice said, he was a distinguished Vice- Chancellor, and he devoted his time to the cause of education, and it is a matter of the utmost credit that after ceasing to be the Chief Justice of India, although he could have made lakhs of rupees by Chamber practice, as it is called, he preferred to devote his time to public causes and to public service and at the end of his life, to translating the Upanishads into English. Nine books have been published and the remaining three books are in the press. It is a measure of his erudition that he was selected as an Editor of B.K. Mukharjee's classic treatise on Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts. Quite recently I have read the preface to it twice and I say that it is a work brilliantly done and it has been brilliantly written, because his personal life and the life of Mr. Justice Mukharjee ran on parallel lines. It is a matter of the utmost credit that although he was in failing health, he devoted his energies to Sanskrit Scholarship thus showing that the traditions of six generations had not lost their hold on him.

It is a matter of the utmost regret to me that all my efforts to expedite the publication of his autobiography failed. For we in India proceed on the assumption not to do today what can be put off for fourteen days. The learned Judge did hope that he would live to see the publication of that book. It would have thrown light on much of his distinguished career.

My Lords, today, with your Lordships we mourn the death not only of a great Judge, but a great Scholar, a great intellectual and I personally mourn the death of a close friend, and I join your Lordships in conveying our deepest condolences to his daughters and his sons-in-law, one of whom is with your Lordships.

Courtesy: The Seervai Legacy by Feroza Seervai

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