Justice Nazeer, who was part of Ayodhya, triple talaq, noteban verdicts, is now Andhra Governor
Former Supreme Court (SC) judge Justice Syed Abdul Nazeer, who was part of the landmark verdicts on demonetisation, the Ayodhya title dispute and triple talaq, was Sunday appointed as Governor of Andhra Pradesh.
Justice Nazeer hails from Beluvai village in coastal Karnataka – a state which is scheduled for a big electoral battle later this year. The appointment also comes amid a tussle between the judiciary and executive, and allegations of the “Centre interfering with the judiciary”.
Justice Nazeer will replace Biswa Bhusan Harichandan in Andhra, who has been appointed as the Governor of Chhattisgarh.
Born in 1958, Justice Nazeer started off as an advocate in 1983, and went on to become a judge of the Karnataka High Court, where he served for around 14 years.
In 2017, Justice Nazeer was elevated to the apex court – the third judge to be elevated directly to the SC without first being a High Court Chief Justice – where he served for almost five years before retiring earlier this year. He is also known for his interest in theatre.
During his term at the SC, he was part of more than 400 benches and authored almost a 100 judgments.
Justice Nazeer was the lone Muslim judge on the five-judge constitution bench which pronounced a unanimous verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case in November 2019, awarding ownership of the disputed 2.77-acre land to the temple trust.
Following the verdict, the Centre granted Justice Nazeer Z category security cover in view of threats from various quarters.
In 2017, Justice Nazeer was part of the five-judge bench that looked into the constitutionality of triple talaq or instant divorce among Muslims. The bench had in a 3:2 majority declared the practice as “illegal” and “unconstitutional” with Justice Nazeer in the minority along with then Chief Justice of India JS Khehar. The dissenting judges held that the court can’t interfere in personal laws.
The same year, Justice Nazeer was part of the nine-judge constitution bench that unanimously declared the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
Most recently, Justice Nazeer was part of the majority decision upholding the Centre’s 2016 demonetisation scheme. The judges held that the RBI Act must be read with a “practical” mindset and that the central government and the Reserve Bank of India had deliberated extensively before demonetising currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination.
In 2021, Justice Nazeer had addressed the 16th National Council Meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, an outfit associated with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in Hyderabad. He had then called the Indian legal system colonial and “not suitable to the Indian population”.
Justice Nazeer is not the first SC judge to be appointed as a state governor, but the third in seven decades of independence – the other two being Justice M Fathima Beevi and former Chief Justice P. Sathasivam.
Justice Beevi, who was also India’s first woman justice at the SC, was appointed the Governor of Tamil Nadu in 1997. She, however, had to resign in 2001, before the completion of her tenure, due to controversy surrounding her invitation to (now deceased AIADMK chief) J Jayalalithaa to form the government, and the arrests of (the late former Tamil Nadu chief minister) M Karunanidhi and two Union ministers in Chennai.
Justice Sathasivam was named governor of Kerala in 2014. The appointment drew controversy mainly because it came just months after Justice Sathasivam retired as Chief Justice of India.
The appointment of judges to positions of powers has been a controversial subject.
In 2012, BJP leader Arun Jaitley had proclaimed that jobs to judges post-retirement would help the government influence the judiciary. “The desire of a post-retirement job influences pre-retirement judgments. It is a threat to the independence of the judiciary and once it influences pre-retirement judgments, it adversely impacts the functioning of the judiciary,” he had said.
In recent years, the appointments of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi as Rajya Sabha MP and of former SC judge Justice Arun Kumar Mishra as Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission have raised eyebrows.