Six-judge bench was assembled with Prime Minister Nehru, 13 High Court judges in attendance.
Seventy one years ago, the Supreme Court of India took its seat for the first time under a new Constitution in the Court Chamber in Parliament House on January 28.
Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde remembered the occasion of the inaugural sitting of the court with Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta as soon as his Bench assembled on Thursday for hearing disputes through a virtual court system chiseled out of a necessity to render justice amid the shroud cast by a global pandemic and resultant lockdown.
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“Today is the day when the first sitting of the Supreme Court took place in 1950. In attendance was the Chief Justices of 13 High Courts. A six-judge Bench sat that day. The Prime Minister [Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru] and Ministers were there. It should be celebrated. This occasion must be marked in future,” Chief Justice Bobde said.
The January 29, 1950 edition of The Hindu carried a three-column, black-and-white photograph of the six-judge Bench with the first Chief Justice of India, Justice Sir Harilal Jekisundas Kania. Below the dais and facing the assembled guests sat the 13 Chief Justices of the High Courts. Beneath the banner headline that said ‘Supreme Court Inaugurated’, were the words “Guardian of Liberty”.
On the occasion, 71 years ago, the first Attorney General M.C. Setalvad, in his speech, as reported in The Hindu, said, “in building a nation, alive to its national and international duties,” the Supreme Court “will play a great and singular role and establish itself in the consciousness of the Indian people. Like all human institutions, the Supreme Court, we hope, will earn reverence through truth”.
“The Hindu” on January 29, 1950 published a three-column photograph of the first sitting of the Supreme Court of India with the first Chief Justice of India Justice Sir Harilal Jekisundas Kania.
In his reply, Justice Kania had said, “in endowing the Supreme Court of India with very wide powers, the Constituent Assembly, the Assembly representing the voice of the people through their elected representatives, has shown complete confidence in the court as the final body for dispensing justice… We hope to deserve that confidence. We trust that the people of India will also maintain the independence, honour and dignity of the Supreme Court.”
Justice Kania had said the establishment of the Supreme Court was the final stage of the complete independence of the judicial system of the country.
A release issued by the Supreme Court on Thursday evening said the court has “relentlessly marched towards ensuring the protection of rights and liberties of the citizens, upholding rule of law and the Constitutional Values” amid various challenges.
It said the COVID-19 virus infection was one such major and unprecedented challenge faced by the court. The court worked in spite of the national lockdown and much beyond the usual minimum of 190 days of sittings in a calendar year.
“The court was functional for 231 days, including 13 vacation sittings in the year 2020. The Registry also remained functional for 271 days as against an average of 268 days in the previous three years,” the Supreme Court’s public relations department said.
It said 43,713 hearings were held by 1998 Benches through video conferencing till December 31 notwithstanding technological constraints, pandemic protocol and reduced workforce.