By A Correspondent
NEW DELHI— Justice Aziz Mushabber Ahmadi, the third Muslim Chief Justice of India who was instrumental in some of the country’s notable decisions, passed away in New Delhi on Thursday, March 2, morning, at the age of 91 years. He had a distinguished career in the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court, and later in the public life, spanning over five decades.
Justice Ahmadi served as the 26th Chief Justice of India from October 25, 1994 till his retirement on March 24, 1997. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in December 1988 after serving as a Judge of the Gujarat High Court since 1976. Prior to this, he was a Judge in the lower courts of Gujarat and served in the City Civil & Sessions Court in Ahmedabad.
Born on March 25, 1932 in Surat, Gujarat, Justice Ahmadi was the son of a junior civil judge. He spent his early years living and studying in various districts and talukas of Gujarat where his father used to be posted during his service in the State Judiciary. He started legal practice in 1954, when he joined the Bar in Mumbai after receiving the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree.
Justice Ahmadi was one of the few judges from the subordinate judiciary to make it to the Supreme Court and later become the Chief Justice of India. During his tenure in the Apex Court, he authored 232 judgments and was a part of 811 benches. He also worked as the President of the Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee in 1989 and as the Executive Chairman of the Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes in India between 1990 and 1994.
While serving as the Judge of the Gujarat High Court, Justice Ahmadi worked as Chairman of multiple advisory boards including Maintenance of Supplied Essential Commodities, Prevention of Black Marketing, and Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities. He also worked as a Member of the Ravi and Beas Waters Disputes Tribunal under the Rajiv-Longowal Settlement just before his elevation to the Supreme Court in 1988.
Justice Ahmadi was the third Muslim ever to become the Chief Justice of India. Prior to him, Justice M. Hidayatullah (1968-1970) and Justice M. Hameedullah Beg (1977-1978) served as the Chief Justices of the country’s top court. After Justice Ahmadi’s retirement, Justice Altamas Kabir served as the Chief Justice of India from September 29, 2012 to July 18, 2013.
The notable judgments of the Supreme Court, in which Justice Ahmadi was a part of the Benches delivering the verdicts, included the cases of Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India and Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India. In the Indira Sawhney case of 1992, the Supreme Court had upheld the validity of the Central Government’s decision to introduce reservation in employment and education for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) on the basis of the Mandal Commission’s report.
In the Ismail Faruqui case of 1994, the Supreme Court had held that a mosque was not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and that Namaaz could be offered anywhere. The court had held that the acquisition of land in and around the Babri Masjid by the Centre in 1993 was not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India.
Following his retirement, Justice Ahmadi was active in the public life and was appointed the Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University. He was re-elected to the post in 2007 for three years. Though he weighed his words before talking at the public forums, he used to speak out with firmness for the rights of the Muslim minority in the country. He was a strong advocate of minority rights and laid emphasis on education for the Muslim youths.
At a public function shortly after his retirement, Justice Ahmadi made a strong pitch for steps by the government authorities to address the issue of social, economic and educational backwardness of Muslims. “The country simply cannot afford to have a certain percentage of population unable to contribute to the country’s development,” he observed.
In 2008, Justice Ahmadi released a book, titled “A Guide to Uplift Minorities”, brought out by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind to help and guide the social workers who are active in the field of welfare for minorities. The 207-page book was meant to guide the non-government organisations working for the minority communities to run their programmes effectively with active aid from the government and other funding agencies.
Justice Ahmadi’s son, Huzefa Ahmadi, is a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court. As a third generation lawyer, he practises in the matters concerning the Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Tax, Civil and Criminal Law. He was designated as a Senior Advocate of the Apex Court in November 2012.