New Delhi: Swallowing its decision, the Modi government on Thursday back tracked and restored Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema as acting chairman of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) – a position from which he was removed a few days back and replaced by Justice M. Venugopal as acting chairman.
Yielding to the pressure from a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana also comprising Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli, the Centre while rolling back its decision to appoint Justice Venugopal as acting chairman of NCLAT removing Justice Cheema just 10 days before his retirement, initially offered to restore Justice Cheema as head of NCLAT “on paper” only but he will not be allowed to go to office. However, the Centre backed off and agreed with the suggestion from the bench that Justice Cheema will continue as acting chairperson of the NCLAT to allow him to pronounce the judgments he has already reserved and in the meanwhile Justice Venugopal will proceed on leave till Justice Cheema’s retirement on September 20. Justice Cheema will receive the retiral benefit until September 20, the day he is slated to retire.
Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema is former Bombay High Court judge and Justice Venugopal is a former judge of Madras High Court. Justice Cheema had challenged his premature retirement and matter was taken up on Wednesday with direction to government to come back with its response on Thursday.
In the course of the hearing finding the Centre represented by Attorney General K. K. Venugopasl unrelenting, the court said that it will put on hold the law that empowers the government to appoint heads of the tribunals including NCLAT.
Attorney General said that the he is ready to argue the position taken by the government.
At this juncture, the hearing was adjourned for about half an hour as A-G sought time to take instructions from the government.
Senior lawyer Arvind Datar, appearing for Justice Cheema, insisted that Justice Cheema should be allowed to go to office to deliver the pending judgments.
Ramana agreed, telling Venugopal, “He (Justice Cheema) has judgments which need to be pronounced. You are a senior counsel and you know this.”
When the Attorney General told the court that “this will become awkward for the current chairman”, the CJI flared up, “Your order is also awkward. We have to say you are responsible for this situation.”
The Attorney General then sought time to take instructions from the government and later told the Court that the Centre has agreed to Justice Cheema’s plea to allow him to go to office to deliver judgments.
The top court accepted his of submission and passed the order to let Justice Venugopal go on leave till September 20.
The A-G told the court, “It was said he (Justice Cheema) took leave to write judgments. So, we have decided that he will be allowed to go to office and pronounce judgments, the current chairperson Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave.”