Highlighting the importance of judicial system in India, outgoing Chief Justice of India TS Thakur on Tuesday said the country cannot progress "unless judiciary also gets ready to handle the challenges that the development and progress bring with them".
Speaking at an event organised to bid him farwell, Justice Thakur said, “I will pray that judiciary remains fearless and continue doing what people expect it to do.”
“I may be retiring but will keep praying for its prestige, from outside the sanctum sanctorum of Supreme Court,” he said.
He once again expressed concern over the lack of judges amid growing pendency of cases and asked the judiciary to be ready for future challenges to ensure that the nation remains an "inclusive society".
Justice Thakur, who served for almost a year as the 43rd CJI, dealt with a range of issues in his farewell address in the apex court premises and said there are as many as three crore cases pending cases in courts across the country and the issue has to be tackled efficiently given the paucity of judges.
"The present has great challenges. We have three crore cases. We have problems of infrastructure. We have problems of judge strength being low... But please remember, we will have greater challenges in the future and that is what we have to be prepared for," he said.
Dealing with the emerging areas of litigations, the CJI said, "You will have very, very serious issues coming up in times not very far from now. You will have issues regarding cyber laws, medico-legal cases, genetics and privacy etc. You will have issues of making India an inclusive society."
Addressing the farewell function organised by Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), he said there should not be a race among the lawyers for becoming a judge or a senior counsel while suggesting that these designations should come "uninvited".
"We have seen the race for becoming a judge, efforts to become a judge and very recently the race for becoming a senior advocate. I have always felt that these distinctions should come to you uninvited. You must not invite them you must not ask for them. You must be considered deserving and suitable for such a distinction," he said.
Justice Thakur, under whose tenure as CJI, the Supreme Court locked horns with the central government over several issues, especially over judicial appointments, demits office today.
The CJI expressed his fondness for advocacy and said, in lighter vein, "one amendment I would like to happen in the Constitution is to let the retired judges practice. After all, we are lawyers at heart".
“I had the best time of my life as a lawyer,” he recalled.
Speaking at the event, CJI-designate Justice JS Khehar hailed Thakur as an “extraordinary man with extraordinary qualities”.
Khehar said that the outgoing CJI travelled the country spreading the good word of law and making people aware about the difficulties faced by the judiciary.
"He travelled abroad representing the Indian judiciary, invited foreign delegations and discussed law with them," he said.
He recalled how he thought Thakur was a very handsome man when he saw him for the first time.
In a lighter vein, Justice Khehar further said, "The other day I told to him (Justice Thakur) about a newspaper report that he is going to be the Vice President. He laughed it off. We wish him to be the President, why Vice President."
Both judges, who had also served as judges at the Punjab and Haryana High Court, regaled everyone with their humour.
In response to Thakur’s remark that the “crowd is here to welcome you”, Khehar replied “no, they are here to bid farewell to a terrible CJI.”
Khehar added that “CJI Thakur has released perhaps the largest number of books which should be some sort of record.”
The event, which saw a huge crowd coming together to bid farewell to Thakur, was marked by the absence of Justice J Chelameswar who shared many disagreement with outgoing CJI.
Justice Chelameswar, a member of the collegium had refused to attend collegium meetings chaired by Thakur and demanded that the minutes of the meetings must be recorded.
He was also the lone judge who was in favour of doing away with the collegium system and favoured government’s proposal of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act when a five-judge Constitution Bench struck down the NJAC.
The farewell function organised by the SCBA saw the presence of most of the apex court judges and the senior lawyers of the Supreme Court.
Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi, who addressed the gathering, lauded Justice Thakur's judgement in entry tax
The AG also described the outgoing Chief Justice as a soft-spoken, dignified and very decent judge with the Bar.
SCBA president senior advocate R S Suri, vice president Ajit Kumar Sinha and secretary Advocate Gaurav Bhatia also spoke during the occasion.