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Centre-SC impasse over NCLAT ends

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana and also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had expressed serious displeasure over the hasty replacement of Justice Cheema with Justice M Venugopal, just 10 days before the former’s retirement.

SNS | New Delhi |

The deadlock between the Supreme Court and the Central government came to an end as the Centre on Thursday 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.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana and also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had expressed serious displeasure over the hasty replacement of Justice Cheema with Justice M Venugopal, just 10 days before the former’s retirement.

The top court had threatened to suo motu stay on the Tribunal Reforms Act of 2021.

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.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, however, clarified that Justice Cheema’s reinstatement should not be treated as a precedent.

As Attorney General responded that it would be “very awkward” for the government to remove Justice Venugopal now.

The Chief Justice said the way this order (premature retirement of justice Cheema) was passed is awkward.

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 the office and pronounce judgments.”

He added that during period 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.

But the bench wanted that Cheema is allowed to pronounce five judgments he had reserved.

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 a manner.