The row over the premature retirement of former NCLAT Chairperson Justice Ashok Iqbal Singh Cheema ended in the Supreme Court on Thursday after the Centre conceded, permitting him to continue in office till September 20 to pronounce verdicts.
Justice Cheema, the former Chairperson of National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), was to superannuate on September 20, but Justice M Venugopal was appointed as the acting head of the tribunal with effect from September 11, creating a peculiar situation where the former approached the top court.
“I have taken instructions. It was said he (Cheema) took leave to write judgments. So we have decided that he will be allowed to go to office and pronounce judgments, the current chairperson Justice Venugopal will be sent on leave,” Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
“The submission is accepted and consequential orders will be passed (by the government). The current chairperson will be on leave till September 20 and this order is passed keeping in mind the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case,” the bench said.
The report comes on a day when the Supreme Court expressed displeasure over the "hurried" appointment of Justice M Venugopal as Acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) following which the former chair moved the court challenging reduction of his tenure.
In his petition to the apex court, the former NCLAT director termed the order reducing his tenure as "arbitrary".
The matter is scheduled to be heard on Thursday by a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
The plea came on the same day after the top court criticised the hasty appointment of Justice M Venugopal as Acting Chairperson and noted that Cheema, who was due for superannuation on September 20, was replaced in a hurried manner.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana had earlier asked Attorney General K K Venugopal to take instructions on the issue.
"In advance, telling you (AG) to appear tomorrow, it's regarding premature retirement of Justice Cheema as NCLAT Chairman. It appears he has been replaced. It says that 10 days before his retirement Mr Cheema, NCLAT chairman, hurriedly Mr Venugopal was appointed. Don't know how this is happening," the bench also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, had earlier said.
Justice M Venugopal had been appointed as the Acting Chairperson of the NCLAT, as the key appellate tribunal continues to be without a permanent head now for more than 18 months.
He is a former judge of the High Court of Madras. He had joined as a Sub-Judge in Tamil Nadu State Judicial Service on June 5, 1997 and later was elevated to high court in November 2007, where he had served for eleven-and-a-half years.
Justice Venugopal was appointed as a Judicial Member of the NCLAT on October 23, 2019 and was moved to the Chennai bench of the appellate tribunal on January 16, 2021.
Justice S J Mukhopadhaya, who was the full-time Chairperson, retired on March 14, 2020 after serving as Chairperson of the appellate body for almost four years.
Last week, the apex court had raised concerns, saying the Centre was "emasculating" tribunals by not appointing officials to the quasi-judicial bodies that are facing staff crunch.
(With inputs from PTI)