Ex-CJI Sarosh Homi Kapadia, fiercely honest and reclusive to the last, passes away

“He didn’t say a word,” said Shernaaz Kapadia of her husband, Sarosh Homi Kapadia, who passed away in Mumbai on Monday night after a heart attack. Typical, one would think, because the 68-year-old former Chief Justice of India always believed that a judge was a better man for being aloof in his demeanour. And he did live such a life, shunning social appearances and idle chatter, and only revealing himself in his forthright and insightful judgments.

The reclusive life of Justice Kapadia was often the subject of hearty discussion in legal circles. Former Attorney General G E Vahanvati had his own tale. “Once Justice Kapadia’s aunt rang him up in Delhi and invited him for a social meeting,” he used to say. “Justice Kapadia made it clear that the meeting would be for just 10 minutes over a cup of tea and nothing pertaining to his post and profession would come up for discussion.”

For family, as for professionals, Justice Kapadia was often a closed book. But then he himself had famously said about the qualities required of a judge: “A judge must inevitably choose to be a little aloof and isolated from the community at large. He should not be in contact with lawyers, individuals or political parties, their leaders or ministers unless these be purely social occasions.”

Aloof he might have been, but he was reassured, honest and fiercely individualistic. This perhaps was to be expected, for Justice Kapadia was a self-made man, having started his life in law at the lowest rung – as a Class IV employee. From those base levels, he climbed the ladder to become the 38th chief justice of India. Senior advocate Iqbal Chagla put it succinctly when he said, “He was a perfect example that you don’t need to have a godfather to succeed in the legal profession.”

However, his pace of work did not betray any lack of studious reflection. He came up with the term “institutional integrity” to differentiate between an individual and his post. While quashing the appointment of P J Thomas as the chief vigilance commissioner, Justice Kapadia said that Thomas’ integrity might not be in question, but the pendency of a criminal case against him would hurt the “institutional integrity” of the CVC.

Justice Kapadia also felt that as a judge he had a role to play in ensuring social justice. He is known to have said, “Economic prosperity has to happen, but I don’t want 300 million to prosper at the cost of 700 million. This is where the role of the judiciary comes in.” He copped some criticism when he turned down the Rs 11,000 crore tax demand on Vodafone, but the final word is former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee’s.

“Sarosh,” said Sorabjee, referring affectionately to a fellow Parsi and a respected fellow legal eagle, “was a judge with integrity who always had a soft corner for the marginalised sections of society.”
Perhaps mindful that taking up a government job after retirement would tell on his credibility, Justice Kapadia refused all public assignments after September 2012, when he demitted the highest judicial post. Not that he lacked for work, for he was swiftly engaged by lawyers for conducting a ..

Published on Economic Times