Former NCLAT Chairperson Justice Cheema to be allowed in office till Sep 20: Centre to SC

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New Delhi [India], September 16 (ANI): The Central government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that it has decided to allow Justice (Retd.) AIS Cheema, former acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), to continue in office till September 20 and the current chairperson M Venugopal will be asked to go on leave until then.

Attorney General KK Venugopal appearing for Centre told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana that the government has decided that Justice Cheema to continue in the office till September 20 to deliver pending judgments.

Venugopal said Justice Cheema will also receive consequential retirement benefits based on that date.

"I have taken instructions and it was said Justice Cheema took leave to write judgments. So we have decided that he will be allowed to go to the office and pronounce judgments. The current chairperson Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave," Attorney General said.

September 20 is the date on which Justice Cheema was slated to retire before the Centre had curtailed his service by ten days. Justice M Venugopal appointed as acting Chairperson of the NCLAT from September 11 will be on leave till then.

The Bench then recorded the submission of the Attorney General and disposed of the petition of Justice Cheema who approached the top court against the government's decision to curtail his tenure ten days before it was slated to end.

"The Attorney General fairly considered that there is no objection to allowing prayer C and also to allow petitioner to deliver his judgements up to September 20. Once prayer C is accepted, consequential directions will be passed. In view of the above submissions writ petition is disposed of," the Bench stated in its order.

The development came as, at the outset of the hearing, the Attorney general told the Bench that Justice M Venugopal has already been appointed as acting Chairperson of NCLAT and would keep Justice Cheema as acting Chairperson only on paper.

The Bench, however, expressed serious displeasure over the hasty replacement of Justice Cheema with Justice M Venugopal ten days before the former's retirement. Justice Cheema appears to have kept some judgments for pronouncement in the last days of his tenure and it would be very inconvenient for the litigants to allow these cases to be heard afresh, CJI told Venugopal.

To this, Attorney General replied that allowing Justice Cheema to be in office will become awkward for the current Chairperson.

"Your orders are also awkward, we have to say. You are responsible for this situation," said CJI Ramana.

The CJI Bench then gave time to Attorney General to take instructions from the government as Justice Cheema has judgments that need to be pronounced.

Later, Venugopal told the Bench that he took instructions and Justice Cheema will be allowed in office till September 20.

Justice Cheema challenged the reduction of his tenure saying it was an arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal order from the government to remove him from his post which violates the independence of the judiciary.

He was appointed judicial member of NCLAT on September 11, 2017, and was functioning as its acting Chairperson since April 19, 2021.

Justice Cheema, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, said he had received a communication from the Centre on July 16 stating that his tenure will be upto September 20.

In his plea, Justice Cheema said he was expected to continue in the post of acting Chairperson till his retirement on September 20. Cheema turns 67 on September 21, the age of retirement of NCLAT members.

However, on September 10 he received a communication stating that his tenure has come to an end since he has completed 4 years as an NCLAT member.

The latest order of government came in wake of the new Tribunal Reforms Act, 2021. This period of four years is as per the new Act.

The new Act says that a member of NCLAT shall hold office for four years or till he/ she attains the age of 67 whichever is earlier.

Justice Cheema has stated in his plea that in anticipation that his tenure would be lasting till September 20, he had taken leave from August 31, till September 10, to write down the judgments, so as to pronounce them in the week starting from September 13, 2021.

It was hurting to be treated like this after rendering unblemished service of about 39 years in the judiciary, Justice Cheema said. He had served as Registrar and thereafter Secretary-General of the Supreme Court before he was appointed a judge of the Bombay High Court in 2013 where he served till he retired in 2016. (ANI)

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