Four new judges were sworn in at the Supreme Court today, including Justice B.R. Gavai of the Bombay High Court, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste community. The Central Government, on Wednesday, cleared the recommendations made by the Supreme Court Collegium and appointed Justices B.R. Gavai, Surya Kant, Aniruddha Bose and A.S. Bopanna to the top court. The Supreme Court is now functioning at its full sanctioned capacity of 31 judges.
Two years back, Justice Gavai had taken a firm stand in the case relating to the death of CBI Judge B.H. Loya, who died of a cardiac arrest while attending a wedding in Nagpur in 2014. Justice Gavai, who was then a judge of the Bombay High Court, was present with Judge Loya in Nagpur for the wedding. Justice Gavai had unequivocally stated that there was no foul play in Loya’s death. Justice Gavai had refuted the allegation that Loya was taken to hospital in an autorickshaw, unescorted. Justice Gavai was present at the Meditrina hospital where Judge Loya was taken. Justice Gavai had also denied reports that Judge Loya’s body was sent unescorted to his hometown near Latur.
In April 2018, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had dismissed petitions seeking inquiry into Judge Loya’s death. During the hearing of the matter, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave had urged the Supreme Court to initiate disciplinary action against Justice Gavai and Justice SB Shukre for giving interview to a media outlet regarding Judge Loya’s death. This submission of Dave was termed as ‘preposterous’ by the Supreme Court. The bench through Justice Chandrachud wrote, “This submission is preposterous. It constitutes an undisguised attempt to malign four senior judicial officers and the judges of the High Court.” Justice Chandrachud further wrote, “We are mentioning this aspect because the line of submissions in this case indicates an unfortunate attempt to use every possible ploy to cast aspersions on members of the district and higher judiciary. That senior counsel chose with all seriousness to make those submissions without a sense of responsibility, and without verifying the basic facts reveals a disturbing state of affairs. We must express our disapproval in no uncertain terms.” Justice Chandrachud had also observed that “the attempt of the petitioners is to create prejudice and to malign the dignity of the judges, particularly of Justice BR Gavai”.
Shortly after Justice Gavai was recommended for elevation by the Collegium, Dushyant Dave wrote an article attacking Justice Gavai. Dave alleged in the article that Justice Gavai is close to Justice S. A. Bobde and linked former’s elevation to the dismissal of the complaint of sexual harassment against CJI by the committee formed by Justice Bobde. Dave alleged that Justice Gavai, while at the Bombay High Court, had quashed a criminal proceedings pending against Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis in respect of offences which included non-compoundable offences. Dave disclosed that he had written a letter to the Collegium in November, 2018 against elevation of Justice Gavai.
Dushyant Dave in his article criticized Justice Gavai for giving the interview regarding Judge Loya’s death by stating, “Giving of such an interview was not just unprecedented, but highly improper. Judges do not speak to the press, as the Restatement of Values adopted by the Supreme Court prohibits it.” Interestingly, when the four senior Judges of the Supreme Court gave a press conference in the context of the Judge Loya case, Dave had said, “This press conference, according to me, is a turning point in modern India’s history.”
The Bar Council of India had come out in strong support of elevation of Justice Gavai. The Chairman of BCI through the press release of May 16 said that the comments of Dushyant Dave are motivated and meant to serve some vested interest.
Justice Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai was appointed as a judge of the Bombay High Court in November, 2003. With his elevation, Justice Gavai could eventually become the Chief Justice of India for a term of six months, in May 2025. Justice Gavai is the first SC judge in India’s top court since the retirement of CJI K.G. Balakrishnan on 11 May, 2010. Justice Gavai is in line to take oath as CJI, almost 15 years after Justice Balakrishnan demitted office as India’s first SC CJI. Justice Surya Kant is set to succeed Justice Gavai as CJI in November 2025.