Mr. Sohrab Peshotan Kotval was the former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court. Following Chief Justice Y.S. Tambe, the Honorable Mr. Sohrab Peshotan Kotval presided over the Bombay High Court for a lengthy six-year period, from 1966 to 1972.
Mr. Kotval hailed from a well-status, wealthy family in Nagpur therefore, held a high esteemed position in official and social circles of the city. Mr. Kotval was well connected to the city of Nagpur. His father was a well-respected and known person in the city. During the British era, he served as a Commander of the British Empire. He served as Nagpur’s judicial commissioner for a protracted period of time and enjoyed the respect of the city’s residents as well as those in the surrounding area of the former province of C.P. & Berar.
Mr. Kotval completed his education from Saint Joseph Convent High School and later at Billimoria High School, Panchgani. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morris College (now Nagpur Mahavidyalaya) and his LL.B. from Nagpur’s University College of Law. He was a skilled debater and received the Jakatdar Elocution Prize and the Karsonji Gold Medal for debate during his undergraduate years. He participated in the Nagpur Quadrangulars and was an avid sportsman as well. He excelled at tennis, as well.
Mr. Kotval enrolled as an Advocate at Nagpur in 1932. He practiced as an advocate in Nagpur and later in High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Federal Courts and the Supreme Court. As an advocate, he specialized in Company Law and Commercial Law. Mr. S.P. Kotval was appointed as a Judge in Madhya Pradesh High Court on 18th August 1955. When the States were reorganized in 1956 for linguistic purpose, the Bombay High Court had the honor of hiring him as a judge, previously he served on the Nagpur Bench. In 1958 he was appointed as one-Man Commission of Inquiry into the causes of Police Firing in Ahmedabad. This was during the time when appointment of such Commissions was somewhat rare. He would formulate the procedure he would follow. He accomplished this successfully and to the admiration of all parties involved, and the process he developed was extremely helpful to those who were afterwards nominated to such Commissions. It was because of his findings only that a separate state of Gujarat was created. He was moved permanently from Nagpur to Bombay in 1964. He was appointed Chief Justice of this High Court at the end of July 1966, a position he retained until 1972. When Dr. Cherian passed away while in office in 1969–1970, he served as acting governor of Maharashtra.
Mr. S.P. Kotval is remembered for his civil and polite manner in court, for maintaining extreme courtesy and being friendly outside his professional life. Mr. Kotval was also an extremely patience person, he would give patient hearing to an argument irrespective of the fact whether they are good or bad and would give clear judgements. The advocates presenting their case before him would often come with relaxed minds according to Chief Justice Kania. Mr. Kania regards this as his pleasure to appear before him. Even as CJI, Mr. Kotval is remembered as an epitome of social grace and charm. He was also friendly and courteous to his colleagues.
His Lordship retired as the Chief Justice on 27th September, 1972. But even his retirement, he did not stopped working. He was chosen to serve as the first Lokayukta of Maharashtra and the nation as a whole after his retirement in 1972. It should be noted that the methods he used have served as a model for the several Lokayuktas who have been appointed in different States afterwards. Two Maharashtra State Ministers were forced to resign in large part due to the reports he provided in his capacity as Lokayukta. Our late Chief Justice was a multifaceted individual. Apart from this, in 1979 The Tata Iron and Steel Company’s shareholders created a committee under his leadership to determine if the company was upholding its moral and social obligations. Prof. Rajani Kothari and Prof. P. G. Malvankar were the other committee members. The report from that Committee resembles a judicial-social audit of the Company’s operations. He served as the President of the Parsee Anjuman in Nagpur and a trustee for the J. N. Tata Girls’ High School. Additionally, he served as the Cancer Society of India and Bharat Sevak Samaj’s Vidarbha branches’ president.
Mr. Kotval was also a known figure in academic circles. He was chosen to serve on the Nagpur University Court in 1935 and the Academic Council in 1942. He held both of these roles up until 1964, when he moved out of Nagpur permanently. He was chosen as the Dean of the Nagpur University’s Faculty of Law in 1957 and the university’s Vice-Chancellor in 1961. He had the honour of founding five new science departments for graduate studies during his tenure as Vice-Chancellor. He was able to get 320 acres of land for the Nagpur University to build a new campus because to his good relationships with the government and persuasiveness. His lordship passed away on March 6, 1987 at the age of 76 after gracing the position of Judge for 17 years.
Some Judgements by Honourable Mr. S.P. Kotval-
In “Ganeshsinha Domansingha Hajari vs Commissioner” a notice of no-confidence motion is given against Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti of Nagpur, under Section 72 of the newly enacted Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961. The petitioner is Chairman here. On Oct 10, 1962, four members of the Samiti i.e., respondents 2 to 5 gave a notice of their intention to move the no-confidence motion. The petitioner upon receiving the notice, ruled it out. The petitioner did so because the notice was not accompanied by any grounds on which it was proposed to move the motion. The provisions of Section 72(7) of the Act require that notice of a no-confidence motion be submitted, and Section 72(4) of the Act lists the Commissioner’s authority. The court held that the notice dated October 10, 1962, was unlawful and in violation of the Act’s rules. The notice was quashed and respondents were told to pay the costs of the petitioner.
In “Munda Chapla Banjari vs The Commissioner”, the three petitions pose an important question about whether or not a lease awarded by a receiver in bankruptcy would qualify the lessee as a protected lessee under the Berar Regulation of Agricultural Leases Act, 1951, and consequently whether or not he would still be covered by tenancy rules. In this case, a receiver was appointed who granted annual leases of certain fields belonging to the insolvent, which were admittedly “alienated” holdings, in the normal course of managing the property. The three petitioners in these petitions are three such persons, to whose or whose ancestors the fields of the insolvent were leased. There are wide arguments in this case but the main question in these petitions is whether the petitioners under the Berar Regulation of Agricultural Leases Act consequent upon the grant of leases by the receiver in insolvency became protected lessees. Contrary to the Sub-Divisional Officer’s opinion, the learned Commissioner and the Deputy Collector have ruled that the receiver in insolvency was an officer of the State and that, because of his authority to grant annual leases, the leases he granted would qualify as leases from the government and, as a result, be exempt from Section 20 of the Berar Regulation of Agricultural Leases Act. The end decision in this case was taken in favour of Commissioner and the Deputy Collector.
In “Laxman Narayan Pokale vs Block Development Officer”, Laxman Narayan Pokale, the petitioner, ran in ward number three for the Mouza Hmgni Gram Pauchayat. There would be thirteen members in the Gram Panchayat, with two seats set aside for female candidates. The petitioner and respondents filed their nominations for the same however, by an order passed on September 23, 1961, respondent No. 2, who was the Returning Officer for the election rejected the nomination, of the petitioner.Respondent 1 also filed an appeal to the Block Development Officer, but it was also rejected. At the end the petitioner had to go to the court to file a petition under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution against rejection of his nomination. The petitioner’s nomination was rejected for the reason that he was a patel appointed by the government and, as such, was ineligible to run for office in accordance with Section 14(i) of the law governing the election, the Bombay Village Panchayats Act, 1958 (No. III of 1959). Sec 14 states that “No person shall be a member of a panchayat, or continue as such, who is a servant of the Government or a servant of any local authority.” According to the below-mentioned authority, as revenue patels and police patels are government employees, they are not permitted to run for office under the terms of Section 14(i) of the Act. The end results of the case were that the petition was dismissed since the respondents failed to show up which means no order as to costs. Also, since the petitioner was the patel of the village and as such a government servant, he was unable to run for election to the Gram Panchayat of Hiugni.
- Official website of High Court of Bombay, https://bombayhighcourt.nic.in/cjshow.php?bhcpar=amdldGlkPTE1JnBhZ2Vubz0x
- Maharashtra Law Journal, 1987 http://bombayhighcourt.nic.in/libweb/references/KotwalSP.PDF
- Ganeshsinha Domansingha Hajari vs Commissioner (1963) 65 BOMLR 722
- Munda Chapla Banjari vs The Commissioner (1962) 64 BOMLR 667
- Laxman Narayan Pokale vs Block Development Officer (1962) 64 BOMLR 587
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