Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari recalls days when CBI ceased to exist

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 28-06-2024
Justice (retd) Iqbal Ahmed Ansari
Justice (retd) Iqbal Ahmed Ansari


Imtiaz Ahmed/Tezpur

Did you know that a decade ago something bizarre happened? The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ceased to exist for three days! All those accused facing charges in courts filed by the federal agency started seeking stay on the prosecution on the basis of a 'non-existent' organisation.

It happened in November 2013, courtesy verdict of the Gauhati High Court that declared the CBI unconstitutional because it had not originated from a constitutional provision nor was it constituted vide any Union Cabinet decision. It also did not have the President’s assent.

On November 6, a division bench of Gauhati High Court, comprising Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari and Justice Indira Shah, quashed the April 1, 1963 Resolution constituting CBI under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, and declared all its actions unconstitutional.

Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari

However, a Supreme Court Bench of the then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjana Desai, which held a special sitting at the residence of the CJI on November 9, 2013, stayed the order and the matter remains unsettled by the apex court till date.

According to the Gauhati High Court verdict, the CBI was not formed under any statutory provision, but under an executive order of the Union Home Ministry in the year 1963, and that too, without any backing from the Constitution.

The High Court order had rattled the Indian legal system prompting the Centre to move the Supreme Court immediately.

Awaz-The Voice caught up with Justice (retd) Iqbal Ahmed Ansari, who later on became the Chief Justice of Patna High Court and Chairman of Punjab State Human Rights Commission, to know more about the landmark judgment and its bearing on the legal system as well as his career.

Elaborating on the verdict, Justice Ansari said it was still unsettled and felt the executive was against the settlement of the matter because it would put a question mark on thousands of cases probed by the apex federal investigation agency.


Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari (retd) with Chief Justice of India T S Thakur

“A BSNL employee had appealed against a judgment of Justice Ranjan Gogoi (pronounced in 2007), who later on became the Chief Justice of India, challenging the constitutional validity of the CBI. It came for a hearing before me and Justice Dr Indira Shah and we took the view that it did not have any legal foundation. It has been simply brought into effect by a memorandum or resolution of the Home Ministry.

"So, we gave the ruling that the CBI was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court was moved and a vacation bench headed by Chief Justice of India Justice (P) Sathasivam heard it and passed a stay order. Later on, it came up for further hearing (on December 6, 2013) and Justice Ranjan Gogoi was one in the two-judge bench, and since he could not hear it on ethical grounds. So, the hearing could not take place and it is simply written that he has ‘not participated’. A new bench was never constituted and the matter continued to be unsettled by the Supreme Court till now,” Justice Ansari said.

“But in all fairness, this question has been raised, such as by Justice (J) Chelameswar, Justice Madan Lokur, saying the Supreme Court should scrutinise the judgment and decide because, supposing tomorrow, you find that the CBI is not constitutional, what will happen to all the cases over the past?” he added.

The verdict indeed had its bearing on Justice Ansari’s career too. “The collegium takes a call on who can be a Supreme Court judge. But, unfortunately in my case, a person from Assam went against another from Assam. Justice Ranjan Gogoi was even against my elevation as Chief Justice of Patna High Court because he did not want his judgment on the CBI to be disturbed by anyone and I did it.

"I was told by the then Chief Justice of India Justice (TS) Thakur that Justice Gogoi approached him when my name came up as the Chief Justice of Patna High Court and the latter sent the matter to the collegium. When the system was pointed out to him, he tried to coerce the collegium to post me as Chief Justice of Meghalaya High Court. Then Justice Thakur shot off a letter to Justice Gogoi asking him to submit in writing any material that he has against me. And, he gave in writing that he did not have anything.”


Justice (retd) Iqbal Ahmed Ansari with Shatrughan Sinha, and other Bollywood actors

Apart from the CBI verdict, Justice Ansari also cherishes his other judgments such as the NIA case accused should be produced in a special court or sessions court before appealing to High Court, the scrapping of Coal India Ltd’s introduction of e-auction which was not in favour of the people of Assam, a verdict directing doctors to abort a rape victim’s fetus which she wanted to abort as she did not want to give birth to a child begotten by a rapist, and others.

Justice Ansari, who pursued his academics in his hometown of Tezpur in northern Assam, and wanted to be an engineer or an Army officer, was forced into law by his father who was himself a barrister, and he was perhaps right in guiding his son’s career.

“I was very interested in engineering because there were ample opportunities during our times. However, my father had the impression that engineers earn more than sufficient and they tend to be inclined to gambling and alcoholism. Being a barrister, he wanted me to study law which I did despite my impression that lawyers have to lie a lot which I later on found out to be untrue. A lawyer can practice by not lying if he wants to.

"Thereafter, I was very much inclined towards serving in the Army and I did get selected. My father once again persuaded me back because he feared that I was too headstrong and thus, I might get court-martialled and sacked. Then I became a lawyer. During my legal practice, I was quite impressed by the personality of some of the judges. One such judge was Justice SN Phookan. So, I decided to go for the judicial services and I succeeded in the first attempt itself.”


Asked if he felt that the judiciary at times comes under pressure from the legislature, Justice Ansari categorically stated that during his time there was no pressure from the legislature, but the executive could sometimes do so, and it depends on the judge. “In our times there was no such pressure.

Justice (retd) Iqbal Ahmed Ansari at a seminar in Kolkata

However, as it has been appearing these days from what Justice Ajit (P) Shah, Justice Madan Lokur, and Justice Joseph Kurian have been saying, it appears the judiciary at the level of the Supreme Court is under some kind of pressure. There have been shocking instances of people showing a lack of trust in the judiciary. But by and large, I believe that the judiciary is still independent,” he said.

About the perennial problem of the pendency of cases in Indian courts, Justice Ansari said, “It’s a very difficult question. The judges-litigations ratio in India is so poor that it’s even worse than in Bangladesh. To solve the issue, we need more law colleges. To prevent the brain drain from law to the corporate sector, the Supreme Court has allowed the direct entry of law graduates into judicial officers. However, that is also not helping because the process needs proper training where we are lacking.”

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Justice Ansari had, during his time in Gauhati High Court, even initiated such training programmes and said: “I am happy that a lot of young law professionals benefited. Some of them have become senior lawyers and are doing quite well. It gives me a lot of satisfaction… I do participate in such initiatives even now if I am invited.”