P. N. Bhagwati

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P. N. Bhagwati
17th Chief Justice of India
In office
12 July 1985 – 20 December 1986
Appointed by Giani Zail Singh
Preceded by Y. V. Chandrachud
Succeeded by R. S. Pathak
Chief Justice, Gujarat High Court
In office
16 August 1967 – 17 July 1973
Personal details
Born (1921-12-21) 21 December 1921 (age 95)

Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (born 21 December 1921) was the 17th Chief Justice of India, serving from 12 July 1985 until his retirement on 20 December 1986. He introduced the concepts of Public Interest Litigation and Absolute liability in India, and for this reason is held along with Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, to be a pioneer of judicial activism in the country.

Early and personal life[edit]

P. N. Bhagwati was born in Gujarat. His father was Justice Natwarlal H. Bhagwati, a Supreme Court judge. He is the brother of the economist Jagdish Bhagwati and the neurosurgeon S.N. Bhagwati. He is married to Prabhavati (née Shethji) and the couple have three daughters, Parul, Pallavi, Noopur and Sonali.[1] Pallavi is a senior partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas, a leading Indian law firm.

Bhagwati received his education in Mumbai. He studied at Elphinstone College, taking a Mathematics (Hons.) degree from Bombay University in 1941. In 1942, he courted arrest during the Indian Independence Movement and went underground for four months. He later received a law degree from Bombay University after studying at Government Law College, Bombay.[1]


Bhagwati began his career practicing at the Bombay High Court.[1] In July 1960, he was appointed a judge of the Gujarat High Court. In September 1967, he was appointed the Chief Justice of that court. On two occasions, he acted (briefly) as Governor of Gujarat (7 December 1967 to 25 December 1967 and 17 March 1973 to 3 April 1973[2] In July 1973, he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. In August 1985, he became Chief Justice of India.

As a supreme court judge, Bhagwati introduced the concepts of public interest litigation and absolute liability to the Indian judicial system. He is therefore held, along with Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, to have pioneered judicial activism in the country.[3][4]

He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 2007.[5]

Habeas corpus case[edit]

A controversial judgment of Bhagwati was in the ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla case (popularly referred to as the ADM Jabalpur case or the habeas corpus case) where he decreed that during Emergency, a person's right to not be unlawfully detained (Habeas Corpus) can be suspended. This judgment received a lot of criticism since it reduced the importance attached to Fundamental Rights under the Indian Constitution. Bhagwati later agreed with popular opinion that this judgement was short-sighted and "apologised" for the same.[6]

Other activities[edit]

Bhagwati was appointed Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning on 6 May 2011.[7] The same year, he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Judges Biography: P. N. Bhagwati Supreme Court of India.
  2. ^ "Information about the tenure of the Governors of Gujarat". Raj Bhavan (Gujarat) (Govt. of Gujarat). Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  3. ^ "P.N. Bhagwati on the role of judicial activism". 6 Mar 1996. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Starting the PIL revolution". 26 Jan 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954-2007)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Interview with Justice Bhagwati (2011)". Video on www.myLaw.net. 
  7. ^ "Press statement released by Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Prasanthi Nilayam". Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud
Chief Justice of India
12 July 1985 – 20 December 1986
Succeeded by
Raghunandan Swarup Pathak