The impending retirement of Justice Indu Malhotra from the Supreme Court prompted Attorney General KK Venugopal to briefly allude to the debate over the retirement age for judges today.
Praising Justice Malhotra for her legal acumen, the AG said,
“She is one of the best judges. It’s sad that the judge has to retire at 65. We are sorry as members of the Bar that Justice Malhotra has to retire.”
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi agreed, remarking,
“She is too young to retire. I will welcome Justice Malhotra to the Bar again so that she conducts arbitration proceedings.”
Senior Advocate and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Vikas Singh also weighed in.
“65 is an age where a judge is at the peak. No reason to retire and the age must be 70. Even on the last day, she has read all the files and is discussing the cases. Another woman judge should be appointed immediately. She is an icon.”
Referring to Justice Malhotra’s lone dissent in the Sabarimala case, AG Venugopal observed,
“Especially in the Sabarimala case, she propounded the position of Constitutional morality.”
It may be recalled that while four of the five judges on the Constitution Bench allowed the entry of women into Sabarimala Temple, Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge on the Bench, dissented. She observed at the time that permitting public interest litigation in religious matters would open the floodgates to interlopers to question religious beliefs and practises.
On her last working day, Justice Malhotra sat with Chief Justice of India SA Bobde today, as is custom. The CJI also joined in on praising Justice Malhotra, remarking that he realises the “value of this custom of having a ceremonial bench.”
CJI Bobde went on to recount,
“The last case she argued was before a Bench led by me…She was not stopping even though we heard. I was told she prepares so well that she can’t stop before she says everything. I do not know a finer judge than her. I have shared the Bench with her in some very important cases.”
He also extolled the virtues of Justice Malhotra as a role model.
“I have a daughter who is a lawyer and worked with Justice Malhotra. She had once said something which was peculiar. Later, when I heard Justice Malhotra, she made the same point. That was the sign of a great role model,” CJI Bobde said.
“Her judgments are filled with knowledge, sagacity and firmness. Have nothing to say on her judicial acumen. She is not going to the Bar. She is going to stay with us.”
“The way Justice Malhotra has risen in the Bar is commendable. She inspires the younger lawyers and women to aspire and become judges,” Senior Advocate Singh said.
“When she was elevated, she created a history. She was a hardworking lawyer and a senior,” Advocate and Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) President Shivaji Jadhav said.
Senior Advocate PS Narasimha added,
“We are happy to have her back at the Bar again. As a lawyer, she did exceedingly well. She has performed exceedingly well as a judge.”
“It’s a proud moment for us,” Senior Advocate V Mohana remarked.
“She became a judge, and it is an exemplary case for all us women. For us juniors we have learnt how to conduct ourselves and maintain dignity. We pray for a great innings for her. We had a satisfaction that we were fully heard.”
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan recalled,
“She was my boss as well. Justice Malhotra is not only an icon for woman lawyers, but she is an icon for all of us regardless of gender…it was a transformative experience to have worked with her.”
Justice Indu Malhotra responded,
“My only message is I am blessed to have been a part of the Supreme Court Bench and to have contributed to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.”
With Justice Malhotra retiring from office today, the Supreme Court will be left with only one-woman judge, Justice Indira Banerjee. A farewell function for Justice Malhotra will be held this evening at the Supreme Court lawns.