The appointment of Hon’ble Justice Mirza Hameedullah Beg as the new Chief Justice in succession to Justice A.N. Ray on January 29, 1977 raised another wave of protest. Justice H.R. Khanna who was the seniormost judge was superseded.
The Supreme Court Bar Association Vice President Gobinda Mukhtoy assailed the supersession: “The evil and dark forces have struck again… now a citizen will be hesitant to come before the highest court of the land, if he has to seek relief against the State or the Union.”
Law Minister Gokhale said in a press statement that Justice Beg had been appointed because Justice Khanna would have had a very short tenure of five months and five days.
Calcutta Lawyer Somnath Chatterjee pointed out… a respected, honest and upright judge has been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
The next two Chief Justices of India, Y.V. Chandrachud and P.N. Bhagwati, were on Justice A.N. Ray’s side in the notorious ruling of 1976. Both however realized the blunder later and washed away the blot by their future performance and pronouncement, thus was it written.
In his autobiography Neither Roses Nor Thorns, Justice Khanna has revealed that he knew that his dissenting judgement in the ADM Jabalpur case had cost him the chair of CJI.
Justice Beg’s Arrival
“After M. Hidayatullah’s retirement in December 1970, the SCI was without a Muslim judge. According to Beg, Mrs. Gandhi wanted him appointed to the Muslim seat. But he had served only seven and one-half years on the Allahabad bench, and was about fifteenth in seniority. A solution to his seniority shortcoming was found when Himachal Pradesh gained statehood in 1971 and a new High Court was created at Simla. Beg was transferred to the High Court as its First Chief Justice on 25th January, 1971. His sojourn at Simla was brief for he was sworn in as a member of the SCI in the same year… In 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Government awarded him the Padma Vibhushan, the nation’s second highest civilian award, for his contributions to law and jurisprudence.”
– George H. Gadbois, Jr., Judges of the Supreme Court of India 1950-1989, Oxford.
Justice H.R. Khanna, the good one, received his Padma Vibhushan, all of 11 years later, in 1999.
Executive Participation in Judicial Appointments in Re: Hon’ble Justice Mirza Hameedullah Beg.