Justice H.R. Khanna, RIP

I learnt today that Justice H.R. Khanna passed away earlier this week. Justice Khanna was one of the greatest judges in our Supreme Court’s history, and I mourn his passing. He played an important role in the Kesavananda Bharati case and his individual opinion in that decision helped establish the basic structure doctrine as the majority view. Although he was somewhat skeptical in Kesavananda about implied restraints on parliament’s amending power, Justice Khanna was unequivocal in his support for basic structure in the Election Case, where he played an influential role in fashioning the outcome.

Justice Khanna will be best remember for his eloquent dissent in ADM Jabalpur — a dissent that is as historic as Lord Atkin’s opinion in Liversidge v. Anderson. He paid a heavy price for that opinion as he was superceded when it was time for him to become Chief Justice of India. Yet, he left the bench preserving his professional dignity and upholding the highest judicial traditions. As the New York Times of 30 April 1976 noted:

If India ever finds its way back to freedom and democracy, that proud hallmark of its first 18 years, someone will surely erect a monument to Justice H.R. Khanna of the Supreme Court.

Justice Khanna wrote many books. I recommend two: Neither Roses nor Thorns and Making of India’s Constitution. The former was his autobiography and gives us a poignant account of the supercession. The latter is a good summary of the framing of our constitution. Justice Khanna, thank you for your service to our country!

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 comment
  • Dear Vikram, thanks for the post on Justice Khanna. His dissent in ADM Jabalpur does indeed display rare courage, especially in times when a dictatorial prime minister wanted a ‘committed judiciary’. I hope there is a monument to Justice Khanna.