Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (21 December 1921 – 15 June 2017) 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. He is the longest served supreme court judge (including Chief Justice to tenure) in India.
|17th Chief Justice of India|
12 July 1985 – 20 December 1986
|Appointed by||Giani Zail Singh|
|Preceded by||Y. V. Chandrachud|
|Succeeded by||R. S. Pathak|
|Governor of Gujarat (acting)|
17 March 1973 – 4 April 1973
|Preceded by||Shriman Narayan|
|Succeeded by||K. K. Viswanathan|
|Chief Justice, Gujarat High Court|
16 August 1967 – 17 July 1973
|Governor of Gujarat (acting)|
7 December 1967 – 26 December 1967
|Preceded by||Nityanand Kanungo|
|Succeeded by||Shriman Narayan|
Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati
21 December 1921
Ahmedabad, Bombay Presidency, British India
|Died||15 June 2017 (aged 95)|
New Delhi, India
|Relatives||Jagdish Bhagwati (brother)|
Padma Desai (sister-in-law)
Shardul S. Shroff (son-in-law)
|Alma mater||Bombay University, Government Law College, Bombay|
P. N. Bhagwati was born in Gujarat. His father was Justice Natwarlal H. Bhagwati, a Supreme Court judge. He was the elder brother of the economist Jagdish Bhagwati and the neurosurgeon/president of the Neurological Society of India S. N. Bhagwati - father of economist Ketki Bhagwati. He was married to Prabhavati (née Shethji) and the couple have three daughters, Parul, Pallavi, and Sonali. Pallavi is currently the managing partner of leading Indian law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co and is married to Shardul S. Shroff. Bhagwati was a devotee of the popular Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, and was also a member of Sathya Sai Trust till his death.
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.
Bhagwati began his career practicing at the Bombay High Court. 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 temporarily as Governor of Gujarat (7 December 1967 to 25 December 1967 and 17 March 1973 to 3 April 1973). 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.
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 the Emergency of 1975 to 1977, a person's right to not be unlawfully detained (i.e. 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. Going against the previous decision of High Courts, the bench which included Bhagwati concluded in favour of the then Indira Gandhi government while only Justice Hans Raj Khanna was opposed to it. Bhagwati openly praised Indira Gandhi during the Emergency period, later criticized her when Janata Party-led government was formed and again backed Gandhi when she got re-elected to form government in 1980. Bhagwati was criticized for these change of stands, favouring the ruling government, which were deemed as to have been taken to better his career prospects. Bhagwati later in 2011 agreed with popular opinion that this judgement was short-sighted and "apologised".
Maneka Gandhi was requested, through an official letter from the Regional Passport Officer, Delhi on 2 July 1977 to return her passport within seven days "in public interest" under section 10(3) of The Passports Act (1967). Gandhi, who had been issued Indian passport on 1 June 1976, in return asked the office to give statement of reason in accordance with section 10(5) to which the office replied that "in the interest of general public" the Government had decided to not furnish any such statement further. Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with Right to Freedom, Gandhi filed a writ petition in which Bhagwati and Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer ruled in favour of Gandhi.
In 1982, Bhagwati was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences while being affiliated with the Columbia University. He had been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee from 1995 to 2009, being re-elected after every two years on expiry of his term. He was also chairman of the committee in 2001-03. As of 2006[update], he had also served as a member of the Committee of Experts of the International Labour Organization for over 27 years. He was appointed Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning on 6 May 2011.
Justice Bhagwati died on 15 June 2017 at the age of 95 after brief illness at his home in New Delhi. His funeral was held on 17 June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death calling him "stalwart of India's legal fraternity".
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