New Delhi: Former chief justice of India, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, passed away on Thursday night in the national capital. He was 95.
Bhagwati, who was India’s chief justice from July 1985 to December 1986 is widely credited with introducing public interest litigation (PIL) along with his brother justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.
He was a judge of the Gujarat high court for 13 years and served as chief justice of the high court from 1967 to 1973. Subsequently, he was elevated to the apex court. After his retirement, Bhagwati held several key offices on judicial reforms and legal aid in Gujarat. He ran the Pilot Project of free Legal Aid and Advice in the state as chairman of the State Legal Aid Committee.
Apart from pioneering PILs, Bhagwati is remembered for several important rulings on issues related to fundamental rights. In the Maneka Gandhi passport impounding case in 1978, Bhagwati dealt extensively with the right to life, holding that a person’s movement cannot be restricted without due process by the state.
However, his ruling in the Menaka Gandhi case was a departure from his views in the ADM Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla case, popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case, in which Bhagwati concurred with the majority view that a person’s right to not be unlawfully detained can be suspended by the state during emergency.
The ruling is criticized for paving the way to preventive detentions during the Emergency under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. The judge later acknowledged that his stand was myopic and apologized.
President Pranab Mukherjee, prime minister Narendra Modi and several leaders expressed their condolences. “The demise of Justice P. N. Bhagwati is saddening. He was a stalwart of India’s legal fraternity. My deepest condolences. Justice P. N. Bhagwati’s remarkable contributions made our judicial system more accessible & gave voice to millions," Modi said on Twitter.
Bhagwati is survived by his wife and three daughters. The family said that the funeral will be held on Saturday in New Delhi.