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After SC's anguish, Centre agrees to reinstate acting chair of NCLAT

After a brief deadlock with the Supreme Court on Thursday, the Centre agreed to reinstate Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema as acting chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), till the date of his retirement on September 20, enabling him to pronounce judgments pending with him.

After SCs anguish, Centre agrees to reinstate acting chair of NCLAT
File Photo

New Delhi

During the hearing on the matter, a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli expressed serious displeasure over hasty replacement of Justice Cheema with Justice M. Venugopal, just 10 days before the former's retirement, and threatened to suo motu stay on the Tribunal Reforms Act of 2021.     

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, submitted that he is prepared to argue the Centre's stand on the matter. However, the impasse did not last long. After the matter was adjourned for 30 minutes, the government blinked but clarified that Justice Cheema's reinstatement should not be treated as a precedent.    

Venugopal told the top court that, "I have taken instructions. It was said he (Cheema) took leave to write judgments. So, we have decided that he will be allowed to go to office and pronounce judgments."     

He added that Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave.    Appreciating the AG's efforts in breaking the deadlock, the bench said: "The Attorney General solved the problem. We thank you for this".    Initially, the AG had submitted before the top court that Justice Cheema would be "treated" as acting chairperson till September 20 and he will be paid his service benefits.     

However, the bench pointed out at five judgments reserved by Justice Cheema and added, he should be allowed to pronounce these judgments.  The AG responded that it would be "very awkward" for the government to remove Justice Venugopal now.  The chief justice replied the way this order (premature retirement of justice Cheema)  was passed is awkward. The bench, in its order, said the current chairperson will be on leave till September 20 and this order is passed keeping in mind the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case.    

Justice Cheema had challenged his "premature" and sudden removal from office as NCLAT acting chairperson on September 10 in the top court.  Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing Justice Cheema, had emphasized it is not correct to treat a former Bombay High Court judge, who had been part of the legal profession for 40 years in such manner.

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