Apex court’s second senior-most judge retires Thursday


New Delhi: Justice B.N. Agrawal, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, retires Thursday after nine eventful years in the apex court, during which he often hit the headlines for his stern remarks against the high and the mighty.

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Known to be media-shy, Justice Agrawal has a reputation of being a no-nonsense judge, extremely firm but fair in his dealings, a modest personality but a stern professional.

Justice Agrawal’s blistering observations have often caused serious heartburns to the occupants of chief ministerial chairs in various state capitals across the country.

The latest among them is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, whose spree of building memorials to herself and her political mentor late Kanshi Ram at a high cost to the public exchequer has come to a grinding halt due to Justice Agrawal’s intervention.

He halted the constructions while taking up for legal scrutiny the question whether a government, armed with cabinet approval or even a legislative sanction, can spend money from the public exchequer on apparently questionable or partisan causes.

“We have to examine whether you can spend so much from the public money. Serious questions arise in this petition,” a bench including Justice Agrawal observed Sep 8. “The cabinet and the legislature have to act under the constitution,” the bench stressed.

The state government now has been served a notice for contempt of court proceedings for flouting the apex court’s order to halt the memorial construction in Lucknow.

On Oct 1, 2007, it was Justice Agrawal’s bench that had threatened the Tamil Nadu government with dismissal and had initiated contempt proceeding against Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and others for defying its order of the previous day banning the DMK-sponsored general shutdown in the state to express support for the Sethusamudram project.

“This is not merely a violation of our order, but a complete breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state,” Justice Agrawal had thundered, adding: “If this is the situation, we will have to direct the central government to impose president’s rule in the state.”

Adjudicating upon a lawsuit on the issue of retired bureaucrats and former legislators squatting in their official bungalows and accommodation, Justice Agrawal caused tremors in state capitals.

While adjudicating yet another lawsuit by a hapless woman, running from pillar to post for registration of a criminal case against the abductors of her teenaged daughter, Justice Agrawal sought to tone up the entire police machinery at police station level to ensure that no victim of a crime is further victimised by police inaction.

At a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to bid farewell to Justice Agrawal, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishanan expressed a sense of absolute trust in his colleague.

The chief justice said, “He (Justice Agrawal) was a great source of strength and courage to me in discharging administrative functions. When he signed any file, I used to sign the same without any hesitation.”

Speaking at the occasion, SCBA president M.N. Krishnamani said, “It is a sad day for judiciary as a man known for integrity is retiring. It is a great loss. How are we going to fill this void?”

“Integrity and independence have become a rare commodity. After 40 years of practice and after being a judge of the Supreme Court for nine years, Justice Agrawal doesn’t own an inch of land,” Krishnamani said.

“When are we going to have this kind of a man? I can say, Oh Integrity, Thy name is B.N. Agrawal,” he remarked.

Born on Oct 15, 1944, the 65-year-old Justice Agrawal joined the legal profession at the age of 22. Enrolled as an advocate in January 1966, he practised in the Patna High Court as advocate till November 1986.

Reputed for his deep understanding of the constitutional matters, he was first appointed as judge at the Patna High Court Nov 17, 1986. After a 13-year stint with the Patna High Court, he was elevated as the chief justice of the Orissa High Court in November 1999.

He joined the Supreme Court Oct 19, 2000.