Justice N V Ramana and his notable legal journey in Supreme court

Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana presently the acting Judge in Supreme Court of India was previously, the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and the acting Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court. He has also served as the president of the Andhra Pradesh Judicial Academy. He is due to retire on 26 August 2022 with a successful tenure of 8 years in Supreme Court of India, who is also in line to be Chief Justice of India with effect from 24 April, 2021 after superannuation of Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde. 

Hon’ble Justice Ramana has practiced in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Andhra Pradesh and Central Administrative Tribunals and the Supreme Court, specialising in constitutional, criminal, service and inter-state river laws. He served as Additional Standing Counsel for the Central Government and Standing Counsel for Railways in the Central Administrative Tribunal at Hyderabad. He also served as Additional Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh. Most importantly, he has been credited for authoring path-breaking judgments in tax, constitution, arbitration, and criminal law. Justice Ramana in his judgments has not written only for the benefit of the parties. It is also written for benefit of legal profession, other judges and appellate Courts. In his judgements and tenure of 8 years in Hon’ble Supreme Court, he believes the evidence or agrees with the argument and at the same time gives his reasons for such belief and agreement which has later on changed the legal dynamics and shaped the country. As Justice N. V. Ramana, next in line to become the Chief Justice of India, celebrates his 63rd birthday today, let’s have a look at his journey so far in shaping the justice system. 

In 2017, Swaraj Abhiyan v. Union of India1 Justice Ramana wrote a separate concurring opinion, criticising the poor implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013. He criticised the States for failing to appoint a District Level Grievance Officer and the State Food Commission, conduct social audits and establish State Vigilance Committees. In the same year, in Excel Crop Care Ltd v. Competition Commission of India2, Justices Ramana and AK Sikri settled a critical issue in India’s antitrust jurisprudence. They upheld the principle of ‘relevant turnover’ for determining penalties in competition law contraventions. 

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In 2016, Jindal Stainless Steel v. State of Haryana3 a nine-judge bench upheld the validity of states’ entry tax on goods entering from other states. Justice Ramana was a part of the 7 judge majority which held that it is constitutional for states to impose tax on goods imported from other states to protect local goods from undue discrimination. Whereas in 2015, Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam v. Government of Tamil Nadu4, the Supreme Court bench held that the appointment of Archakas in temples must be in accordance with the Agamas (treatises on temple construction, idol installation and deity worship). They also specified that appointments are subject to constitutional principles. In Shreya Vidyarthi v. Ashok Vidyarthi5, the Supreme Court bench held that women cannot become the Karta of a joint family. However, they can be the managers in particular circumstances as the manager’s role is distinct from that of the Karta. 

In terms of the very recent legal developments and breakthrough judgements of Justice Ramana, it is pertinent to mention some of the latest judgements such as Jindal Stainless Ltd v. State of Haryana6, where a 9-judge bench, by 7:2 majority, upheld the validity of the entry tax imposed by the States on goods imported from other States. The Bench held that taxes simpliciter are not within the contemplation of Part XIII of the Constitution of India and that the word ‘Free’ used in Article 301 does not mean “free from taxation”. T.S. Thakur, CJ and Dr. A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde, Shiva Kirti Singh, N.V. Ramana, R. Banumathi and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ, giving the majority view said that States are well within their right to design their fiscal legislations to ensure that the tax burden on goods imported from other States and goods produced within the State fall equally. 

In the historic change of events and transparency in appointment and transfer of judges, Central Public Information Officer v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal7, in whicg the 5-judge constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and NV Ramana, Dr. DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes under the purview of the Right to Information. In the 250-pages long judgment, Justice Sanjiv Khanna wrote the majority opinion for the Bench and Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud gave separate but concurring opinion. 

In Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India,8 popularly known as the “4G Internent Ban case” where the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai, JJ has asked J&K administration to review all orders imposing curbs on telecom and internet services in the state in a week and put them in public domain. “The existing Suspension Rules neither provide for a periodic review nor a time limitation for an order issued under the Suspension Rules. Till this gap is filled, the Review Committee constituted under Rule 2(5) of the Suspension Rules must conduct a periodic review within seven working days of the previous review, in terms of the requirements under Rule 2(6).” 

Further, in Foundations for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir9, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, R. Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai, JJ has constituted a three-member committee to look into demand for allowing 4G mobile internet in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Noticing that since the issues involved affect the State and the nation, the Court found it appropriate to constitute a Special Committee comprising of the following Secretaries at national, as well as State, level to look into the prevailing circumstances and immediately determine the necessity of the continuation of the restrictions in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Nabam Rebia and Bamang Felix v. Deputy Speaker10, a 5-judge constitutional bench of Jagdish Singh Khehar, Dipak Misra, Madan B. Lokur, Pinaki Chandra Ghose and N.V.Ramana, JJ. quashed the order of the Governor, preponing the 6th session of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly by a month without consulting the Chief Minister, Council of Ministers or the Speaker, on account of being violative of Article 163 read with Article 174 of the Constitution of India. 

In Commissioner of Customs v. Dilip Kumar and Co.11, A five-Judge Constitution Bench speaking through N.V. Ramana, J., while invalidating the ratio of Sun Export Corpn. v. Collector of Customs12, laid at rest the controversy regarding the interpretation of an ambiguous provision exempting tax. The Bench noticed that there was distinction between interpreting a charging section and an exempting section. In case of ambiguity in a charging section, the interpretation has to be made in favour of the assessee. 

Roger Mathew v. South India Bank Ltd.13, a 5-judge Constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and NV Ramana, Dr. DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has upheld the validity of Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 and held that the said Section does not suffer from excessive delegation of legislative functions as there are adequate principles to guide framing of delegated legislation, which would include the binding dictums of this Court. The Court struck down the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017, made under Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017, for being contrary to the parent enactment and the principles envisaged in the Constitution. 

Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam v. State of T.N.14 the bench which included Justice N V Ramana held that the appointment of Archakas in temples will have to be made in accordance with the Agamas, subject to their due identification as well as their conformity with constitutional mandates and principles. Exclusion of some and inclusion of a particular segment or denomination for appointment as Archakas would not violate Article 14 only so long such inclusion/exclusion is not based on criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameter. 

Justice Ramana in Md. Anwar v. State of NCT of Delhi15, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, SA Nazeer and Surya Kant, JJ has held that in order to successfully claim defence of mental unsoundness under Section 84 of IPC, the accused must show by preponderance of probabilities that he/she suffered from a serious-enough mental disease or infirmity which would affect the individual’s ability to distinguish right from wrong. “Mere production of photocopy of an OPD card and statement of mother on affidavit have little, if any, evidentiary value.” 

It is evidently clear that these judgements provided above ranging from Criminal law, Taxation law, Corporate and various other legal domains by the Supreme Court where Justice N V Ramana held a substantial part has dramatically expanded its power in governance in the post-Emergency period, building on a new activist approach that broadened popular access to the Court through the development. As this article illustrated, the Justice Ramana has played an instrumental role in expanding role reflected the influence of both the institutional context of judging, as well as broader shifts in the climate of elite worldviews that help frame and shape judicial worldviews and judicial decision-making. 

The broader shifts toward activism and greater assertiveness in governance were driven by changes in the institutional role-conceptions of judges like Justice N V Ramana, and by changes in professional and intellectual elite worldviews regarding the policy and legal issues adjudicated by the Court. As rightly said by Justice Ramana, the role of judges are not bed of roses and the Judicial organ of our country is the guardian of our Constitution. Justice Ramana through his judgements has strongly provided the stature where the judiciary should be looked upon when other government machineries fail to do their jobs. The trust and faith of the people of India is a sine quo non for the judiciary to be running successfully which is reinstated by these recent precedents. 

In light of the above observations and ratios, judges like Justice N V Ramana in India have followed more of the self-restraint policy and self-policing. It cannot be denied that he himself used the concept of self-restraint and make himself accountable to the public as having the faith of the citizens is important for the functioning of this important branch. This certainly demonstrates that the role of judges are not bed of roses where faith, acceptability have to be earned, not commanded. 

Justice Ramana and his contribution to the legal fraternity where he well established the role of judges if we seek the Indian constitution as our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers and the judges acts as the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions. It can be said that the same ideology was propounded by eminent Justice H R Khanna as very well known for his Habeus Corpus case and one who stood against the absolutist government in order to protect the destruction of the Indian democracy and constitutional ideals. Even the New York Times in one of its editorial has applauded the role of judges like Justice HR Khanna by quoting that, “If India ever finds its way back to the freedom and democracy that were proud hallmarks of its first eighteen years as an independent nation, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice HR Khanna of the Supreme Court”. 

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the same stature has been maintained by Justice NV Ramana as of Justice HR Khanna in context of protecting the constitutional principles and democracy at large for India in his various judgements by infusing life to the Constitution.

  • 1 Writ Petition (Civil) No. 857 Of 2015 
  • 2 (2017) 8 SCC 47 
  • 3 Civil Appeal No. 3453/2002 
  • 4 (2016) 2 SCC 725 
  • 5 2015 SCC OnLine SC 1324 
  • 6 (2017) 12 SCC 1 
  • 7 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1459 
  • 8 2020) 3 SCC 637 
  • 9 2020 SCC OnLine SC 453 
  • 10 (2016) 8 SCC 1 
  • 11 (2018) 9 SCC 1 
  • 12 (1997) 6 SCC 564 
  • 13 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1456 
  • 14 (2016) 2 SCC 725 
  • 15 2020 SCC OnLine SC 653 
K.Ramakanth Reddy

K.Ramakanth Reddy Advocate, Telangana High Court & Supreme Court

Senior Standing Counsel for Maulana Azad National Urdu University & Standing Counsel for NCTE, Sun Networks Mobile: 9849029276

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