Justice Ashok Bhushan is new NCLAT chairperson

OVER 19 months after the post was left vacant by the retirement of the then chairperson, Justice S J Mukhopadhaya, in March 2020, the Centre on Friday appointed retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ashok Bhushan, as the full-time chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).

Justice Bhushan, who retired from the Supreme Court in July this year, has been appointed for a period of four years, or “till he attains the age of 70 years, or until further orders”, according to the government notification.

The government also appointed retired Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court, Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar, as the chairperson of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), for a period of five years, or till he attains the age of 67 years, or until further orders. His appointment as the full-time chairperson of NCLT comes nearly 21 months after its first chairperson, Justice M M Kumar, retired in January 2020.

On September 12, after it was pulled up by the Supreme Court, the government had appointed 11 judicial and 10 technical members to the NCLT. In its observations, the court had said the government had “emasculated” tribunals, such as the NCLT, by not appointing members.

The court noted a “critical situation has arisen” due to the vacancies at the NCLT and NCLAT, with respect to completion of corporate bankruptcy proceedings.

Days later, the court again pulled up the Centre for removing acting NCLAT Chairperson, Justice A I S Cheema, from his post 10 days before he was due to retire. A day later, however, the government told the Supreme Court that Justice Cheema would be allowed to complete his tenure.

Over the last 19 months, the NCLAT saw three acting chairpersons – Justice Bansi Lal Bhat and Justice Cheema got several extensions. Similarly, there were seven acting NCLT chairpersons.

While the NCLAT now has two benches, one each at New Delhi and Chennai, the NCLT has 14 benches – at Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Amravati, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Cuttack, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Jaipur, Kochi and Indore.

Justice Bhushan was part of several key verdicts, including the 2019 ruling in the Ayodhya case and the SC’s suo motu intervention in the migrant crisis last year.

In the Ayodhya verdict, Justice Bhushan had penned a separate “addendum” in which he expressed the view that Ayodhya was indeed Ram’s birthplace. While the addendum was left unsigned at the time of the verdict, he acknowledged on his retirement that he had authored it.

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