The 39th Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, who was on Saturday sworn in by President Pranab Mukharjee, is a man of substance who goes about his work in a quiet but firm way.
Chief Justice Kabir is the second Supreme Court head who was born after India attained independence, the first being his predecessor, Chief Justice (retd) SH Kapadia.
Chief Justice Kabir was born July 19, 1948 in the illustrious political family of West Bengal. His uncle Humanyun Kabir – a close associate of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad – was an educationist, politician, writer and philosopher. Humanyun Kabir was the education minister in the cabinet of first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Chief Justice Kabir’s father Jahangir Kabir was a well-known figure in West Bengal politics and served as a minister in the governments headed by chief ministers BC Roy and PC Sen.
His initiation into serving the disadvantaged sections of society was through his trade unionist father.
It was, perhaps, this grooming that in one of the cases he held that “Calling a Scheduled Caste person as ‘chamar’ in a public place or within house when some outsider is present amounts to an offence punishable under the provision of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989”.
A strong believer in maintaining and upholding the propriety of the constitutional offices, the chief justice in another of his judicial pronouncements said that the governors were not the employees or were not obligated to carry out the instructions of the central government as their role was defined under the constitution.
Chief Justice Kabir, while hearing a matter relating to the rehabilitation of the sex trade workers who want to quit the profession voluntarily, told the government that it made excellent schemes on paper but the targeted people did not know about them.
In another case related to ban on dancing by girls in Mumbai bars, Chief Justice Kabir chided the Maharashtra government and wondered: “If women can be models why can’t they be bar dancers? Are there moral assumptions in the state’s constitutional choices?”
His humble and polite mannerism is in contrast to his firm judicial approach. He questioned the government’s approach when he said that any further enhancement in the reservation for the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/other backward classes could only be undertaken after there was a quantification of data in this regard. As it later turned out, the government did not have such data to support its case.
Chief Justice Kabir’s was also involved in a decision that restored the membership of four Karnataka assembly legislators, who were disqualified in wake of number game to save then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa’s government.
Before joining the Calcutta University, Chief Justice Kabir did his schooling at Mt. Hermon School, Darjeeling, and later at Calcutta Boys’ School.
After doing his MA and LLB from the Calcutta University, Chief Justice Kabir enrolled as an advocate in 1973 and practised in the district court and the Calcutta High Court in civil and criminal side. He was no stranger to the legal system as his grandfather was a district magistrate.
Chief Justice Kabir was a major force behind the computerisation of the Calcutta High Court and other subordinate courts in Kolkata.
He was appointed as a permanent judge of the high court Aug 6, 1990. Thereafter Jan 3, 2005, he was sent to the Jharkhand High Court as acting chief justice. He was made permanent March 1, 2005,
Chief Justice Kabir was elevated as the judge of the apex court Sep 9, 2005.
He was instrumental in the design of the additional apex court complex that would be coming up at Pragati Maidan on a plot that once housed the Appu Ghar amusement park.
The building reflects amalgamation of all religions. Chief Justice Kabir said: “I wanted to show that the Supreme Court is a place where all religion have equal respect.”
Some of the cases before Chief Justice Kabir include the appeal by the Italian government asserting sovereign immunity enjoyed by its two marines who are accused of shooting down two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast Feb 15.