The Wanchoo Court (1967–8)
The Wanchoo Court (1967–8)
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter describes the Wanchoo Court of 1967–8. K.N. Wanchoo, the only member of the ICS and the only judge without a law degree or status as a barrister to reach the nation’s pinnacle judicial post, served as CJI for ten and a half months — from K. Subba Rao’s resignation on 11 April 1967 — until his own sixty-fifth birthday on 25 February 1968. Before resigning Subba Rao had, with Wanchoo’s concurrence, recommended that his replacement be Kawdoor Sadananda Hegde, who had recently been transferred from the Mysore High Court to become the chief justice of the Delhi and Himachal Pradesh High Court. With the appointment of Hegde, Mysore gained its first representative on the Court and Grover increased the Punjab representation to two. As Wanchoo approached retirement, he recommended Amar Nath Grover as his replacement. Grover was fifty-five and third in seniority on the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
K.N. Wanchoo, the only member of the ICS and the only judge without a law degree or status as a barrister to reach the nation’s pinnacle judicial post, served as CJI for ten and a half months—from K. Subba Rao’s resignation on 11 April 1967—until his own sixty-fifth birthday on 25 February 1968. Had Subba Rao not resigned, his tenure would have been three months shorter. Immediately following Subba Rao’s resignation, he was named acting CJI and was sworn in as CIJ on 24 February.2 There was no thought of superseding him.1
Before resigning Subba Rao had, with Wanchoo’s concurrence, recommended that his replacement be K.S. Hegde, who had recently been transferred from the Mysore High Court to become the chief justice of the Delhi and Himachal Pradesh High Court. Wanchoo was led to believe, and so informed Hegde, that Home Minister Y.B. Chavan and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had cleared his name, but no official notification followed. Wanchoo inquired several times about the delay, went to see Mrs Gandhi to ask why formal approval of Hegde had not been announced, and went so far as to tell her that he would resign if Hegde’s nomination wasn’t approved.2
The day before the SCI returned from its summer vacation on 17 July, the Court’s case list was delivered to Hegde. His name was not on it but there was an entry that said ‘new judge.’ That afternoon, the home ministry (p.128) informed him that he should get the medical certificate within an hour.3 He did so and learned that evening that his appointment had been notified. Hegde, fifty-eight, was sworn in on 17 July. The three month delay was most likely the result of Subba Rao casting his lot with the opposition. It is possible that, had not Wanchoo pressed so emphatically, Hegde may not have been appointed. Hence, Wanchoo must be credited with the Hegde appointment.
As Wanchoo approached retirement, he recommended A.N. Grover as his replacement. Grover was fifty-five and third in seniority on the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Wanchoo had met Grover more than a decade earlier when the Fourteenth Law Commission, of which Wanchoo was a member, co-opted Grover to assist the commission’s inquiries in Punjab.4 This nomination was approved quickly and Grover was sworn in on 12 February 1968.
With the appointment of Hegde, Mysore gained its first representative on the Court and Grover increased the Punjab representation to two. Wanchoo bequeathed to incoming CJI Hidayatullah a Court at its full de facto strength of eleven judges. The SCI’s regional diversity continued—nine states were represented, with Calcutta and Punjab each having two judges. Both Hegde and Grover were non-brahmins, reducing the brahmin contingent to four. Their average of ten years of high court experience was below the norm, as was their average age of fifty-seven. Both could look forward to a spell as CJI—Hegde for eleven months and Grover for thirty-two.
36. Kawdoor Sadananda Hegde (1967–73)
K.S. Hegde was born on 11 June 1909 at Kawdoor, a small village in the South Kanara district5 of Karnataka. His father, Subbayya Hegde, was a prosperous farmer in a feudal environment.6 His family was very traditional, little touched by modern ways. Hegde was the first in his family to graduate from college and the first lawyer in the family.
(p.129) After two years at St. Aloysius College in Mangalore, he enrolled in the three-year honours programme at Presidency College, Madras, where, in 1933 he earned both a BA (honours) and an MA, both in economics, history, and politics. He received a BL with distinction from the Madras Law College in 1935.
He enrolled as an advocate of the Bombay High Court in December 1935 but did not practise there. There was a one year apprenticeship requirement at Madras but not at Bombay. His father had recently died and he needed to start earning. He practised from 1935 to 1940 at a munsif’s court at Karkala near his birthplace. He then shifted his practice to the district courts in Mangalore where he would remain for the next fourteen years. While in Mangalore, he served as government pleader and public prosecutor from September 1947 to November 1951.
Hegde joined the Indian National Congress in 1935. He was secretary of the student’s union at Aloysius College and president of the student’s union at Presidency College, both offices associated with the Congress. During his Mangalore years, he became secretary of the district Congress committee in 1941. In 1951, he resigned the posts of government pleader and public prosecutor in order to become more active in Congress politics. On 3 April 1952, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha for a two-year term and was re-elected on 3 April 1954 for a full six-year term. In 1954, he went to New York as the alternate Indian delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. During these years, he was also a member of the Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee and of the governing body of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
While in the Rajya Sabha, he was offered the post of deputy home minister by Home Minister Pandit Pant. He declined that invitation mainly because he had a large family to support and six children to educate,7 and felt compelled to continue his law practice when the Rajya Sabha was not in session. He was also offered the chairmanship of the Law Commission with cabinet rank but declined because he believed it would be wrong to hold both legislative and executive posts.
Hegde had been involved in preparing the draft of the States Reorganization Act and Pant, impressed by his legal knowledge, told him that he would make an excellent high court judge. But Pant pointed out that only service judges had been appointed to a high court without (p.130) having practised before a high court. To gain such experience, Hegde began practising at the Madras High Court in 1955 and, after the reorganization of states in 1956, the Mysore High Court.
Midway through his second Rajya Sabha term, Pant offered Hegde a permanent judgeship on the Mysore High Court. He resigned from the Rajya Sabha and took the oath of office on 26 August 1957 at age forty-eight. Nine years later, he agreed to become the first chief justice of the recently constituted Delhi and Himachal Pradesh High Court.8 This offer had been extended first by CJI Gajendragadkar in early 1966 when plans to create a new high court were being made, but Hegde was then hesitant to leave Bangalore. When the offer was extended a second time by then CJI Subba Rao, Hegde was amenable and was sworn in at Delhi on 31 October 1966. Both Gajendragadkar and Subba Rao had earlier observed Hegde on the Mysore bench.
Hegde was not to remain long on the Delhi High Court for he was sworn in as an SCI judge on 17 July 1967 at age fifty-eight. He looked forward to serving as CJI for about one year, from 16 July 1973 when J.M. Shelat would reach retirement age, until his own retirement on 11 June 1974. During his years on the court, Hegde acquired a reputation for his voracious appetite for work and the speed with which his opinions were produced. He also acquired a reputation for being increasingly strident in his opposition, often expressed quite bluntly, to various government policies which were litigated before the Court, particularly matters of special interest to Prime Minister Gandhi after the Congress party split in 1969.
His tenure on the Court ended abruptly in April 1973. The day after the Kesavananda judgment was handed down on 24 April, the government announced that A.N. Ray, fourth in SCI seniority, was the new CJI. Hegde was among the superseded trio and, on 26 April, he announced his resignation, effective 30 April. There is little doubt that Hegde was the main target of the supersession, with Shelat and A.N. Grover being secondary victims.9 Kuldip Nayar reported that ‘Kumaramangalam told me: “we … could not let Hegde become Chief Justice. Hegde was the Congress (Organization) man … He was a brilliant Judge though of a different (p.131) philosophy. We simply could not have him”.’10 Nayar added that ‘Hegde was also the topic of discussion at the Political Affairs Committee meeting. It was noted that he had always taken an anti-government stand and might, if made Chief Justice, prove to be an impediment in the way of “progressive” legislation’.11
The past of no SCI judge prior to Hegde had been so openly and prominently associated with the Congress party but, by the late 1960s, he had become disenchanted with it. He rejected the party’s policies in Privy Purses, Bank Nationalization, and Kesavananda. Shortly after he was superseded, Hegde wrote:
Ever since the Congress split in 1969, several important Communists have entered the ruling party … to capture the Congress from within and to pervert our Constitution. The various steps taken by our Government since the 1971 election bear testimony to the enormous influence wielded by the Communists. An independent judiciary and the guaranteeing of human rights to the citizens are incompatible with the Communist system. For all practical purposes the Congress horse is now being ridden by the Communists. An ex-communist was the main spokesman on behalf of the Government before the Lok Sabha when the question of supersession of judges came up for consideration.12
Following his resignation, Hegde returned to Bangalore and built a lucrative chamber practice. The supersession, followed by the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, brought him back into the political arena. He was the convener of the Sangharsh Samiti in Karnataka, an anti-Emergency movement started by J.P. Narayan, and travelled around South India speaking out against the Emergency.
In the 1977 national election Hegde, contesting as the Janata candidate, (p.132) won election to the Lok Sabha from the Bangalore South district, defeating Congress (I) candidate K. Hanumanthaiah, a former chief minister and union minister of railways. He was one of just two Janata candidates to win in Karnataka.
In the Lok Sabha, he was first appointed chairman of the Committee of Privileges. Following N. Sanjiva Reddy’s resignation as Lok Sabha speaker, Hegde, on 21 July 1977, was unanimously elected to succeed him,13 and held that post until Mrs Gandhi returned to power in January 1980.14 While speaker, he led Indian parliamentary delegations to many Common-wealth and other international conferences.
He did not contest the 1980 national election and returned to the small village of Nitte, close to his birthplace, where he lived in a small cottage. He served occasionally as an arbitrator when asked to do so by the SCI and private parties, but did not resume chamber practice, believing that would not be appropriate by a former speaker. He did remain active in politics. From 1980 to 1986, he was one of the vice-presidents of the Bharatiya Janata Party and thereafter a member of its executive council. The 1984 national election, following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi, found Hegde, then seventy-five, again seeking a Lok Sabha seat from Karnataka. Standing as the BJP candidate, he was defeated by the Congress (I) candidate.
Hegde had spent the first two decades of his career practising law near his roots, and he spent most of the last decade of his life giving back to his roots. Dakshina Kannada district was an economically backward area of Karnataka. He founded the Nitte Education Trust in 1979, which created nearly two dozen institutions aimed at improving the quality of life of the poor in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. Through his efforts, primary, secondary, professional schools and colleges, hospitals, and other institutions were built. After his death, the Justice K.S. Hegde Law College, the Justice K.S. Hegde Institute of Management, the Justice K.S. Hegde Charitable Hospital, and the Justice K.S. Hegde Medical Academy came (p.133) into existence. Through his efforts, the entire region was transformed from backwardness to modernity. Announced annually is the Justice K.S. Hegde Charitable Foundation Award.
His career was a remarkable one, more varied than any other SCI judge. He had been a member of Parliament, first of the Rajya Sabha, later the Lok Sabha, an alternate Indian delegate to the United Nations, a judge of the Mysore, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh High Courts and later the SCI, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and, finally, a philanthropist. He spent half of his life (1930–57 and 1973–90) openly active in politics first in the Congress party, later in opposition to it.
He was the author of Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution of India (Delhi: National Publishing House, 1972), and Crisis in Indian Judiciary (Bombay: Sindhu Publications, 1973). In 1978, he received an LLD (honoris causa) from Kyung-Hee University, Republic of Korea.
Hegde was eighty when he died on 24 May 1990.
37. Amar Nath Grover (1968–73)
A.N. Grover was born on 15 February 1912 at Shwebo in Burma.15 His father, Girdharilal Grover, was an engineer in government service posted in what was then British Burma. When he was five, the family returned to its roots in Punjab and his father established what would become a large construction business.
He earned a BA (honours) in history from Government College, Lahore in 1930. An MA in history from Punjab University, Lahore followed in 1932. He then went to England where he earned a second BA (honours) in history from Christ’s College, Cambridge University, in 1935, and an LLB in 1936, also from Christ’s College. He was awarded first prize in law by Christ’s College in 1936 and was elected honorary scholar in the same year. Also in 1936, he was called to the bar from Middle Temple. He was the first in his family to become a lawyer.
Upon returning to India, Grover, then aged twenty-five, began practising as an advocate at the Lahore High Court in 1937. When Independence and Partition came a decade later, he shifted his practice to the East Punjab (p.134) High Court at Simla and in 1955 to Chandigarh when that court, renamed the Punjab High Court, was relocated there. He served as secretary of the high court bar association from 1950 to 1952, and from 1954 to 1957 was a member of the Punjab bar council. When the Fourteenth Law Commission conducted hearings in Punjab in 1956, he was co-opted by the commission.
On 10 October 1957, at age forty-five, he was sworn in as an additional judge of the Punjab High Court and was confirmed as a permanent judge on 21 November 1959. After just over a decade on the high court, by which time he was third in seniority, he was sworn in as an SCI judge on 12 February 1968,16 three days before his fifty-sixth birthday. Had the seniority convention not been violated in 1973, he would have served as CJI for thirty-two months, from Hegde’s scheduled retirement on 10 June 1974 until he reached retirement age on 15 February 1977. But the chief justiceship was not to be his. On 26 April 1973, the day after the supersession occurred, Grover announced his resignation, effective 31 May and went on paid leave immediately.17
He remained in New Delhi after his resignation, engaging in chamber practice and occasionally serving as an arbitrator. Shortly after the Janata government came to power, Grover, in May of 1977, accepted the chairmanship of an inquiry commission which was assigned the task of investigating charges of corruption, nepotism, and misuse of power levelled against Karnataka Chief Minister Devraj Urs and several of his ministerial colleagues. His 1979 report18 found Urs guilty of several of the charges but the Urs government was re-elected while he was conducting the investigation, and nothing resulted from his report.
That assignment completed, Grover, on 3 April 1979, was named chairman of the Press Council which had been revived by the Janata (p.135) government. In 1982, Mrs Gandhi’s Congress (I), by then back in power, reappointed him for a second three-year term, which ended on 9 October 1985.
He then returned to chamber practice and arbitrations. He also served as vice-chairman of the Delhi Public School Society, as chairman of the governing body of Kamala Nehru College in Delhi, as chairman of the finance committee of the Indian branch of the International Law Association, and as a member of both the World Peace through Law Centre and the International Bar Association. His Press and the Law was published in 1990 (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House).
Grover died on 13 July 1993, at age eighty-one.
(1) Interview with Wanchoo in New Delhi on 24 May 1983.
(2) The Wanchoo interview and the 1988 interview with Hegde.
(3) The Wanchoo and Hegde interviews.
(4) Interview with Wanchoo, and with Grover on 24 May 1983 in New Delhi. See also, Law Commission of India, Fourteenth Report I, (New Delhi: Ministry of Law, Justice, and Company Affairs, Government of India Press, 1980), pp. 6–7.
(5) Renamed Dakshina Kannada district.
(6) Interviews with Hegde on 11 May 1969 and 13 January 1980 in New Delhi, 22 June 1983 in Bangalore, and 14–15 November 1988 in Nitte, Karnataka.
(7) A son, N. Santosh Hegde, was an SCI judge from 8 January 1999 to 16 June 2005.
(8) Himachal Pradesh gained its own high court in 1971.
(9) Another reason for the supersession is believed by some to get V.R. Krishna Iyer on the SCI. Hegde, J.M. Shelat, and A.N. Grover had persuaded Sikri to refuse to accept Krishna Iyer in 1972. Shelat was senior to Hegde and had to be bypassed to get to Hegde. Grover had to be superseded also in order to give A.N. Ray the chief justiceship.
(10) Kuldip Nayar, ‘The 13th Chief Justice’, in Nayar (ed.), Supersession of Judges, pp. 9–41, especially p. 15. A.N. Ray was actually the fourteenth. S. Mohan Kumaramangalam, a close advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, though holding the steel and mines portfolio, was the principal defender of the supersession. The Congress (O) was the product of the 1969 Congress party split in opposition to what became Mrs Gandhi’s Congress (I).
(11) Nayar (ed.), Supersession of Judges, p. 15. See also Granville Austin, Working a Democratic Constitution: A History of the Indian Experience (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 281.
(12) K.S. Hegde, ‘A Dangerous Doctrine’, in Nayar (ed.), Supersession of Judges, pp. 46–53, especially, pp. 52–3. Hegde’s anti-communism ran deep and, long before the supersession, there was no love lost between him and Kumaramangalam, the ‘excommunist’ referred to by Hegde whom he had known for many years, dating to their Madras days. Interview with Hegde, 14–15 November 1988.
(13) According to BJP leader L.K. Advani who, in 1977, was the Information and Broadcasting Minister, he recommended to Prime Minister Morarji Desai that Hegde be the party’s nominee for the presidency of India. Desai, however, chose Sanjiva Reddy. See ‘Hegde could have been President’, blogs Advani, CoastalDigest.com dated 10 July 2010, quoting from blog.lkadvani.in.
(14) In the late 1970s, with M. Hidayatullah having been elected Vice-President of India, which meant serving as chairman of the Rajya Sabha, both houses of Parliament were being presided over by former SCI judges.
(15) I interviewed Grover on 23 January 1980, 24 May 1983, and 23 October 1988, all in New Delhi.
(16) A month after joining the court, Grover, sitting on a bench with CJI Hidayatullah and C.A. Vaidialingam, was stabbed on the head by an apparently deranged former sailor who had been punished for desertion by a lower court. Which of the three judges was the primary target was unclear but Grover was the only one injured. The wound was not serious and Grover was back on the bench after a few days. An account of this incident is found in M. Hidayatullah, My Own Boswell (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers, 1980), pp. 218–23.
(17) Had Grover become CJI, there would have been no Ray Court, for Ray reached age sixty-five on 29 January 1977. His letter of resignation to President V.V. Giri is reprinted in full in Nayar, Supersession of Judges, p. 54. See also Grover’s, ‘Questions That Must Be Answered’, pp. 55–68.
(18) Grover Commission of Inquiry (Delhi: Controller of Publications, 1979).