On 28 August, Jagdish Singh Khehar will turn 65, and, as required by the Constitution, retire from his post as the chief justice of India. Khehar was sworn in as chief justice on 4 January—giving him a less than eight months to serve as India’s premier judicial official. Justice Dipak Misra, currently 63 years of age, will succeed Khehar. Misra too, will serve for a relatively short while—he turns 65 in October 2018. The terms of India’s chief justices have lasted from several years to mere days—in 2004, S Rajendra Babu held the post for 30 days; Kamal Narain Singh, who ascended to the post in late 1991, held it for 17 days.
Over the years, the retirement age and the length of the term for justices at the apex court, and the chief justice in particular, have been subjects of passionate discussion—while justices are forbidden from practicing law after retirement, they can accept government jobs, or head judicial commissions, among other roles. The lure of post-retirement appointments, some argue, could influence a judge’s decisions during her tenure.
The Constituent Assembly was not unaware of such pitfalls. In the following extract from the discussion—which followed the debate on judicial appointments—members such as KT Shah, Jawaharlal Nehru, and BR Ambedkar discuss whether a fixed age for retirement could impact judicial independence. While Shah advocates for a lifetime appointment for judges of the Supreme Court, Nehru and Ambedkar, among others, explain why they find his proposition lacking.