By AW Siddiqui
Indian Supreme Court judge, Justice Deepak Gupta retired on Wednesday. Justice Gupta became the first Supreme Court judge to get a “virtual” send off organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association through “Zoom party” to bid him farewell during COVID19 lockdown.
Justice Deepak Gupta served the Supreme Court as a judge for over three years. He assumed the office of SC judge on February 15, 2017.
The function was attended by CJI SA Bobde, several judges, Attorney General KK Venugopal, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, SCBA President Dushyant Dave and and a large number of advocates.
In his farewell address, Justice Gupta asserted that there was no alternative to a fearless and independent judiciary in a country which professed to be follower of the rule of law and separation of powers.
“When a judge sits in the court... we have to forget our religious beliefs and decide cases only on the basis of our Constitution. The Constitution is our Bible, Quran, Geeta, Guru Granth Sahib and other religious books,” Justice Gupta said in a virtual farewell function via video conferencing.
“Today as I hang up my robes after 42 years in the profession, I have enjoyed each and every moment of it. Though I end relationship with court, my relationship with Bar can never end,” said Justice Gupta.
“Though I am sad for leaving the profession, I am happy that I will have more time for my family and myself. I will get some time to read and pursue hobbies. I will also get to earn some more money than I do as a judge,” he said.
Justice Gupta thanked his father for instilling reading habit in him. “It’s only because of reading that I reached where I am. After my father passed away, it was my mother who gave us everything we needed for an elegant upbringing,” he said.
“I have been called an activist judge or lawyer, I never stepped out of the boundaries...I never broke it,” Justice Gupta said.
However, he said a humane and compassionate judiciary was the need of the hour.”
KK Venugopal described him as the first judge to come out so strongly and openly in defence of dissent. “It should have been said earlier. Your thoughts that citizen has a right to protest in a peaceful manner will never be forgotten. A very bold statement to make for a sitting judge,” the Attorney General of India said.
According to Live Law, while Justice Gupta was part of several notable judgments, he will be particularly remembered for his candid and bold speeches on the misuse of sedition laws and the rising tendency to muzzle dissenting voices.
In a speech delivered as part of Justice PD Desai Memorial Lecture at Ahmadabad on September 2019, Justice Gupta said;
"The last few years have given rise to a number of cases where the law of sedition or creating disharmony have been misused rampantly by the police to arrest and humiliate people who have not committed the crime of sedition as laid down by the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court. The manner in which the provisions of Section 124A are being misused, begs the question as to whether we should have a relook at it. Freedom of expression being a constitutional right must get primacy over laws of sedition"
Commenting on the tendency to brand those who raise questions at the government as "anti nationals", he said : "Merely because a person does not agree with the Government in power or is virulently critical of the Government in power, does not make him any less a patriot than those in power. In today's world, if any person was to say "nationalism is a great menace" he may well be charged with sedition."
“A very important aspect of a democracy is that the citizens should have no fear of the government. They should not be scared of expressing views which may not be liked by those in power.”
"If a country has to grow holistically, not only in terms of economic development and military might or anything, civil rights of the citizens must be protected.
Justice Gupta's separate but concurring judgment in the Constitution Bench decision Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank Ltd And Others, is notable for the observations on judicial independence and post-retirement benefits.
"One cannot expect justice from those who, on the verge of retirement, throng the corridors of power looking for post retiral sinecures", he said in the judgment.
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