Chief justice Raghunandan Swarup Pathak was the 18th Chief justice of India. Justice R.S Pathak was the son of Mr. Gopal Swarup Pathak, a former Vice President of India. Justice Pathak was one of the four judges from India to have been on the ICJ in the Hague. Justice R.S Pathak did his schooling at St, Josep college, and studied law at Allahabad University. After practicing law at Allahabad, he became a Judge at in 1962 and later Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh high court in 1972.
Justice Pathak was a judge at the Supreme court in 1978 and became its 18th Chief Justice on 21 December 1986. He is remembered as a judge who was a man of the middle and was able to bring relative peace to the Court. He served as Chief justice for two and a half years during which time a dozen judges were appointed to the Court.
Justice Pathak was elected a judge of the International Court of Justice and served in that position from 1989 to 1991. He was elected in a “casual election” that was held following the death of Justice M. Nagendra Singh, an Indian judge who was then serving his second term at the International Court.
In 1991, India decided not to renominate Justice Pathak, who however entered the fray with the backing of Ireland. After the Irish government came under attack in the Dail from MPs who blamed Pathak for approving, as Chief Justice of India, the $470-million Bhopal gas tragedy settlement with union carbide, Pathak withdrew from the race. Bhopal Gas Tragedy was one of his Landmark Judgements.In this case, Justice R.S. Pathak facilitated an out-of-court settlement between Union Carbide Cooperation and the Government of India in 1989 regarding the compensation to be paid for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The government had sought $3.3 billion but received only $470 million and the settlement resulted in the dropping of criminal liability charges against Union Carbide in the case. Within three months of his retirement, R.S. Pathak became a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The Supreme Court 1991 upheld the settlement 1991 thus ending Union Carbide’s liability in the case.
Justice Raghunandan Swarup Pathak was nominated to the Supreme Court of India by the then CJI Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, who was the head of the Collegium of judges at that time. Justice R. S. Pathak became a Judge at The Supreme Court of India in 1978. After replacing Justice P. N. Bhagwati, in the year 1986, judge Pathak was made the 18th Chief Justice of India. He was appointed by the President of India – Giani Zail Singh. He was responsible for bringing relative peace to the Indian judicial system. In his tenure of over Two and half years as the Chief Justice of India, R. S. Pathak appointed dozens of judges from around India to the Supreme Court. In the year 1989, he was replaced by Judge E. S. Venkataramiah.
Justice Raghunandan Swarup Pathak renowned as a meticulous Judge, he inspired loyalty in those who work for and alongside him. The breadth and depth of his legal knowledge were allied to modest humanity that enabled him to understand the people who came before him as effectively as he grasped the application of relevant law.
Justice R.S. Pathak was the head of an inquiry committee into matters relating to Volcker Committee Report which is regarding the alleged Indian Links in the UN Oil-for-Food Programme.
Justice Pathak was the Co-President, The Court of Arbitration for Sports Ad Hoc Division, 1996 (Atlanta) and 2000 (Sydney) Olympic Games and the Winter Olympic Games (Nagano-1998). For the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, he was the President of the Court of Arbitration. He is also the President of the Court of Arbitration for the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Salt Lake City in the USA.
He also had a close relationship with the Shivalik and Himalayan region during his tenure as the Chief Justice at Shimla. He is also a Member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law. Among his several laurels is an honorary doctorate from Punjab University.
Justice R S Pathak mostly worked on cases about Direct Taxation, Service, and Tenancy matters. He is also known for his judgments on Constitutional Law matters.
Justice R.S Pathak has given some notable Judgments-
In Union carbide corporation v union of India,
Justice Pathak, along with E.S. Venkataramiah, rangnath mishra, M. N. Venkatachalliah, and N.D. Ojha ordered a settlement of $ 470 million to be paid by Union Carbide against the initial compensation amount of $ 3 billion demanded by the Indian government. He reasoned that due to the pressing urgency to provide immediate and substantial relief to victims of the disaster, the case is pre-eminently fit for an overall settlement between the parties. The judgment also quashed all civil and criminal proceedings related to the Bhopal Gas Disaster.
Jagdish Sharan v. union of India, 1980
The court dealt with the validity of reservation of seats in Delhi University for postgraduate students domiciled in Delhi. Justice Pathak noted that excessive reservation could exclude ‘meritorious candidates’. However, he recognized that classification done to further equality is at the core of Article 14. He held that the preference given to students of Delhi does not ‘offend’ the constitutionally guaranteed right to equality.
In Kehar Singh v Union of India (1988),
The Court defined the scope of the President’s power to grant pardons. In 1988, a petition on behalf of Kehar Singh was filed to the President for a grant of pardon. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The petitioners sought a hearing with the President to make a case for the pardon based on the merits of the case. The President stated that having a hearing was not part of the procedure to grant a pardon under Article 72. Further, the President stated that they could not examine the merits of a case already decided by the Supreme Court.[i]
The petitioners filed a writ and special leave petition seeking clarity on the scope of the powers of the President under Article 72. The Court held that the President has the right to exercise their powers in a manner they deem fit. The Court also held that the petitioner did not have a right to a hearing before the President.
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