Y. V. Chandrachud

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Y. V. Chandrachud
Chief Justice of India
In office
Personal details
Born (1920-07-12)12 July 1920
Pune, Maharashtra
Died 14 July 2008(2008-07-14)
Mumbai, Maharashtra
Spouse(s) Prabha

Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud (Marathi: यशवंत विष्णू चंद्रचूड) (12 July 1920 – 14 July 2008) was the 16th Chief Justice of India, serving from 22 February 1978 to the day he retired on 11 July 1985. Born in Pune in the state of Maharashtra, he was first appointed Judge to the Supreme Court of India on 28 August 1972 and is the longest serving Chief Justice in India's history at 7 years and 4 months. His nickname was Iron hands after his well regarded unwillingness to let anything slip past him.

Tenure as Chief Justice of India[edit]

Justice Chandrachud was appointed Chief Justice of India during the term of the Janata government, under Prime Minister Morarji Desai. During his tenure as Chief Justice, he sent Sanjay Gandhi to jail in the "Kissa Kursi Ka" case. When Indira Gandhi's Congress government came back to power a few years later, Chandrachud became a strong opponent of the government, and was known for staunchly defending the independence of the judiciary. As a Canadian scholar, Bhagwan D. Dua wrote later on:

"Though the entire judicial system was pressured to conform, the ruling party zeroed its attack on the pater familias. Unlike Justice Bhagwati, who was labeled as a Congress (I) man for his laudatory letter to Mrs. Gandhi, Chief Justice Chandrachud had a very low rating with the ruling household. Appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India by the Janata government – a disqualification in itself under the new regime – Chandrachud had not exactly endeared himself to the Gandhis for sending Sanjay to jail in 1978 or for turning volte face during the Janata period. By mid-1981, the estrangement between Chandrachud and the ruling party was so great that Askoke Sen, a Congress (I) MP and the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, even hinted at his impeachment by Parliament. Undaunted, the Chief Justice continued to defend the judiciary against executive interference and called upon the Bench and Bar to be united as this was ‘the only way we could fight the provocation and attack on the judges’….Throughout 1980, the Chief Justice had refused to submit to pressures and made the government appoint eight chief justices to High Courts (and five judges to the Supreme Court) according to well-established constitutional practices. " [Bhagwan D. Dua, A Study in Executive-Judicial Conflict: The Indian Case, 4 ASIAN SURVEY 463, 464 (1983)]

For this reason, he was not given any government post or office after retirement, as the Congress government wanted to "punish" him for standing up to them during his tenure as Chief Justice of India.

The Habeas Corpus case[edit]

In one of the most notable cases in Indian constitutional history, during the Indian Emergency (1975-1977) of Indira Gandhi, a bench constituted of the five most senior judges of the Supreme court of India heard the famous Habeas Corpus case, where detenues under the restrictive Maintenance of Internal Security Act had argued that the Right to Life and Liberty (article 21 in the Indian constitution) could not be suspended even during periods of national emergency. The Indian constitution during that time itself provided that all fundamental rights, including the right to life under article 21 of the constitution, could be suspended during an Emergency. The Habeas Corpus majority decision therefore deferred to the original intent of the framers of India's constitution. However, the Indira Gandhi government flagrantly misused their powers during the Emergency, and as a result, the doctrine of "original intent" has never taken a firm hold in India.

Despite widespread high court support for Habeas Corpus, Justice Chandrachud went along with Justices A.N. Ray, P.N. Bhagwati, and M.H. Beg, to reject this position,[1] stating: in view of the Presidential Order dated 27 June 1975 no person has any locus to move any writ petition under Article 226 before a High Court for habeas corpus or any other writ or order or direction to challenge the legality of an order of detention. The only dissenting opinion was from Justice H. R. Khanna, who has been widely acclaimed for his dissent. Khanna's dissenting opinion was "activist" - and because of the legitimacy his opinion attained, "judicial activism" in India is considered more legitimate than elsewhere.

Both Justices Chandrachud and Bhagwati did much to subsequently atone for their majority opinions in the habeas corpus case.

Minerva Mills Case[edit]

Minerva Mills Ltd. and Ors. v. Union Of India and Ors. (case citation: AIR 1980 SC 1789) is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of India[1] that applied and evolved the basic structure doctrine of the Constitution of India.[2]

In the Minerva Mills case, the Supreme Court provided key clarifications on the interpretation of the basic structure doctrine. The court unanimously ruled that the power of the Parliament of India to amend the constitution is limited by the constitution. Hence the parliament cannot exercise this limited power to grant itself an unlimited power. In addition, a majority of the court also held that the parliament's power to amend is not a power to destroy. Hence the parliament cannot emasculate the fundamental rights of individuals, including the right to liberty and equality.[3]

The ruling struck down sections 4 and 55 of the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court declared sections 4 & 55 of the 42nd amendment as unconstitutional.[2]

Section 55 of the 42nd Amendment, had added clauses (4) and (5) to Article 368 of the Constitution which read:

   (4) No amendment of this Constitution (including the provisions of Part III) made or purporting to have been made under this article whether before or after the commencement of section 55 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 shall be called in question in any court on any ground.
   (5) For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution under this article.

The above clauses were unanimously ruled as unconstitutional. Chief Justice Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud explained in his opinion that since, as had been previously held in Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, the power of Parliament to amend the constitution was limited, it could not by amending the constitution convert this limited power into an unlimited power (as it had purported to do by the 42nd amendment).

   Since the Constitution had conferred a limited amending power on the Parliament, the Parliament cannot under the exercise of that limited power enlarge that very power into an absolute power. Indeed, a limited amending power is one of the basic features of Indian Constitution and therefore, the limitations on that power cannot be destroyed.[3]

Section 4 of the 42nd Amendment, had amended Article 31C of the Constitution to accord precedence to the Directive Principles of State Policy articulated in Part IV of the Constitution over the Fundamental Rights of individuals articulated in Part III. By a verdict of 4-1, with Justice Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati dissenting, the court held section 4 of the 42nd Amendment to be unconstitutional.[2] Chief Justice Chandrachud wrote:

   Three Articles of our Constitution, and only three, stand between the heaven of freedom into which Tagore wanted his country to awake and the abyss of unrestrained power. They are Articles 14, 19 and 21. Article 31C has removed two sides of that golden triangle which affords to the people of this country an assurance that the promise held forth by the preamble will be performed by ushering an egalitarian era through the discipline of fundamental rights, that is, without emasculation of the rights to liberty and equality which alone can help preserve the dignity of the individual.[3]

The Shah Bano case[edit]

In the Shah Bano case, the bench headed by Chief Justice Chandrachud took a secular stand. It invoked a provision in The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 which is a secular legislation to order maintenance compensation to the divorced Muslim woman.

This case caused the Rajiv Gandhi government, with its absolute majority, to pass the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which diluted the secular judgment of the Supreme Court.

Bombay Slum Dwellers case (Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation) is another landmark case decided by him.

Personal life[edit]

Chandrachud was educated at Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya high school, Elphinstone College and the ILS Law College in Pune.[2] Justice Y.V. Chandrachud died on 14 July 2008 shortly after he was admitted to the Bombay Hospital. He is survived by his wife Prabha, his son Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court,[3] and his daughter Nirmala.


  1. ^ Jos. Peter D'Souza (June 2001). "A.D.M. Jabalpur vs Shukla: When the Supreme Court struck down the Habeas Corpus". PUCL Bulletin. Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  2. ^ "Former CJI Chandrachud dead", Sify News, 4 July 2008.
  3. ^ [1]
Legal offices
Preceded by
Mirza Hameedullah Beg
Chief Justice of India
22 February 1978 – 11 July 1985
Succeeded by
Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati

External links[edit]