Biography of Chief Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji

Hon’ble chief justice Sabyasachi Mukharji was an Indian jurist, who was the 20th Chief Justice of India. He also previously served as the acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta high court.

Justice Mukharji has;  B.A. (Hons.) Barrister-at-Law, Educated at Mitra Institution, Calcutta. Graduated with honors in Economics from Calcutta University; Called to the Bar by the Hon’ble Society of Middle Temple, London. He enrolled as an Advocate, at Calcutta High Court on the 23rd of November, 1949. Justice Mukharji did Civil Revenue and Constitutional cases at Calcutta High Court. He was a member of the Study Team on the Administrative Tribunal under the Administrative Reforms Commission. He was also appointed as permanent Judge, Calcutta High Court on 31st July 1968. He is appointed as a part-time member of the 8th Finance Commission. Appointed as Judge, Supreme Court of India on the march,1983.

Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji was born in Calcutta, the third son of Rai Bahadur Bejoy Bihari Mukharji, the first Indian Director General of Land Records, Bengal Presidency. His elder brothers were Justice Prasanta Mukherjee, Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, and the eminent cardiologist, Dr. Aurobindo Bihari Mukharji. He received his secondary education at the Mitra Institution, Calcutta; then a degree from Presidency College, Calcutta, followed by a degree in Economics with honors from Calcutta in 1946. He was called to the bar by the Society of the Middle Temple[ii].

During his student years, he was also involved in student politics. In 1945 Justice Mukharji was elected General Secretary of the Presidency College Student Union. Later, while studying for the bar in London he was elected General Secretary of the Indian Socialist Group in 1948-49 as well as became a member of the Committee of the Inns of Court Student Union representing the Middle Temple.

Justice Mukharji began his legal career in 1949 as an advocate at the Calcutta H.C where he did primarily civil, revenue, and constitutional cases. Under the first (ARC) Administrative reform commission, he served on the Study Team on Administrative Tribunals. In July 1968, he was appointed as a judge on the Calcutta High Court. Starting in June 1982 he worked as a member of the 8th Finance Commission. While on the court Justice Mukharji made a ruling on an election rolls issue that delayed an election. The Election Commission sought superintending control from the Supreme Court which ordered him to hear the case immediately and issue his ruling within five days. While complying with the order he made it quite clear that timing and such issues were within the discretion of the sitting judge and not subject to superintending control. He confirmed his earlier order. On 1 March 1983, he became acting Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court.

On 15 March 1983, Justice Mukharji was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of India, and he became Chief Justice of India on 18 December 1989. In March 1989, Justice Mukharji became involved with the Bhopal gas tragedy when he was appointed to head the Supreme Court’s panel to examine the validity of the “Bhopal Gas Leak Act” (“Bhopal Settlement Act”). He issued his initial opinion just five days after becoming Chief Justice but did not live to see the court’s final disposition of the matter. It was also during his term in the summer of 1990 that corruption charges surfaced against judges on the Bombay High Court, which caused a “crisis of credibility” in the judiciary for the whole country. Charges of corruption, nepotism, classism, and politicization of appointments for most of the high courts began to make the news. Justice Mukharji worked to keep the judiciary independent and worked to solve the problems. Justice Mukharji has received criticism for his handling of the V. Ramaswami case, where his appointment of a committee did not result in corrective action, although Parliament was almost unable to resolve that case. Regarding the conduct of judges, Justice Mukharji said: The Judges either of the Supreme Court or the High Courts and the Chief Justice are subject to the rule of law like any other citizen of this country and must abide by the norms and regulations prescribed in as much as these and to the extent are applicable to them. I always thought this was clear and needed no reiteration. We must, therefore, ensure that there is no conduct of the Judges which affects the faith of the people that Judges do not live according to law.”

Justice Mukharji died of a heart attack complicated by diabetes on 25 September 1990 in London, having just arrived from a lecture tour of the United States. Justice M. was the second Chief Justice to die in office, the first have been Chief Justice H. J Kania.

According to India today newspaper-

“If people say I was a judge am not intelligent I don’t mind. But if they impute that I am not honest then all is lost.”

                      – Chief Justice Sabyasachi Mukherjee in India Today (July 15, 1990)

Justice V. Ramaswami; and Shanti Bhushan: Confrontation:-

The judges of the higher courts are under scrutiny, and from none other than the lawyers themselves and picking the clue as it were from their Bombay colleagues, who successfully boycotted three high court judges last year, the 2,500-member Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has in a strongly-worded resolution in early February sought the resignation of Justice V. Ramaswami, and threatened to boycott his court if he did not quit. This aggressive move was spearheaded by former law minister Shanti Bhushan. In fact, he seconded the resolution to boycott Justice V. Ramaswami. It followed the shocking revelation in the report of the Accountant General (AG) – Audit. Haryana & Chandigarh that the judge was responsible for administrative, financial, and misdemeanor. If Justice V. Ramaswami bows to the pressure from the Bar and departs, the crisis could pass. If he decides to fight it out, the result could be a bitter confrontation between the Bar and the judiciary. On the other hand, he also faces the prospect of impeachment. In fact, the furor concerning judges’ ethics has prompted leading jurists to favor a piece of independent machinery to investigate and punish corrupt judges. Noted constitutional expert Nani Palkhivala: “There is a danger in allowing the Bar to pass judgment on a judge. But what is the option before the Bar? There is no machinery to bring errant judges to book.[iii]

“The solution appears to be, literally, next door. In the court adjacent to the chief justice’s court, a five-member constitutional bench, including all three members of the committee set up by justice Mukherji, in addition to Justice L.M. Verma and Justice J.S. Sharma is examining this very issue. The bench is hearing a case involving corruption charges against former Madras High Court chief justice, K. Veeraswami, who is, ironically, the father-in-law of Ramaswami. Their lordships are mulling over the crucial point: who has the right to investigate and punish an allegedly corrupt judge?


[i] https://www.calcuttahighcourt.gov.in/Judges/CJ-and-Judges

[ii] https://www.legaldata.in/supreme-court/judges/47/Hon%27ble%20Mr.%20Justice%20Sabyasachi%20Mukherjee

[iii] https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/indiascope/story/19910228-judiciary-bar-takes-a-strident-position-814082-1991-02-28

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