For all the times he created a stir with highly unexpected rulings, retired judge Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya (pictured) — the outgoing chairman of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) — was also known for his dry sense of humour.
Addressing his colleagues at the farewell organised by the NCLAT Bar Association, the former chairperson said, “The Bar tolerated me for the last three years and nine months. The Bar is supposed to argue but I argued and the Bar tolerated.”
Finally hanging up his boots after three eventful years, the argumentative judge said that he enjoyed every moment of his stint.
Appointed as the first Chairperson of NCLAT on June 1, 2016, Mukhopadhaya did not have much in terms of resources at hand when he began, with limited staff and infrastructure. It is only recently that the NCLAT moved to its new premises and the government approved adding strength to the tribunal, including setting up new benches.
As Mukhopadhaya moves on, the reins will be handed over to retired judge Bansi Lal Bhat for a period of three months with effect from March 15, until a regular chairperson is appointed, or until further orders. Bhat is a member of NCLAT and former judge of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court.
Mukhopadhaya said that speed was of the essence for the Tribunal. As NCLAT chairperson the 69-year-old ruffled many feathers with his judgments in matters related to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
Best known for his 2013 order that recriminalised homosexuality by upholding the notorious British-era Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — a judgment later overturned by former chief justice Dipak Misra — Mukhopadhaya’s recent ruling restoring Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons chairman came as a rude shock to the salt-to-software giant.
His ruling in the Essar Steel case, that financial and operational creditors of a company undergoing the Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) have equal rights, a judgement that appears to contradict basic commercial logic, shook the banking world. It also later led to amendments to the IBC.
Mukhopadhaya always remained unfazed. Speaking to this reporter last year, he had defended his stance saying, “If it is a wrong judgment, then what was the need to amend the law?” True to his style, Mukhopadhyaya said, “I am a judge and when I talk about a case there is no sentiment.”
Over a year ago, surprised by how Bhushan Steel had managed a hearing within a day of filing the application, he reprimanded his staff suspecting they had taken a bribe and instead allotted a much later date.
He worked with the Patna and Ranchi Benches of the Patna High Court, starting in 1979.
Fourteen years later, he was designated a senior advocate by the Patna High Court, where he continued to practice in constitutional, service, civil and criminal matters.
Having served as acting Chief Justice in the Jharkhand and Madras HCs at various times, he was appointed the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court in 2009. In 2011, he was elevated to the Supreme Court, where he presided till his retirement in 2015.