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K G Balakrishnan, first Dalit Chief Justice of India

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December 22, 2006 15:10 IST
Last Updated: December 22, 2006 16:00 IST

Justice K G Balakrishnan, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, will be the new Chief Justice of India, the first-ever Dalit to occupy the coveted post. Law Ministry sources said President A P J Abdul approved the new appointment on Friday. He replaces Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal who is retiring on January 14, 2007. A notification in this regard will be issued next week, the sources said.

Balakrishnan, the 37th Chief Justice, will have a tenure of three years and four months, till May 12, 2010, the day he retires. Chief Justice Sabharwal had a tenure of 14 months while his predecessor Justice R C Lahoti had a 17 month stint.

Born in a poor Dalit family of Thalayolaparambu village in Kottayam district of Kerala [Images] on May 12, 1945, Balakrishnan completed his graduation in science, overcoming caste hurdles inherent in Kerala society back then. He completed his law degree from Maharaja's Law College and enrolled himself as an advocate in the Kerala Bar Council in 1968.

His father Gopinathan was the first person in the family who did matriculation despite several odds. He later retired as a clerk from the Kerala judicial services.

In 1985, Balakrishnan was appointed as a judge of the Kerala high court and was transferred to the Gujarat high court in 1997. He became the Chief Justice of the Gujarat high court in 1998. In 1999, he assumed charge as the Chief Justice of the high court of judicature at Madras. In 2000, he was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Several of his rulings have had far reaching effects on society. It was he who pronounced the controversial judgment asking the Election Commission to debar the political parties, which impose hartals on the public.

"The forcible strikes by political parties have a very bad effect on common people. You can see how patients, passengers and children suffer during strikes," Justice Balakrishnan said in his ruling.

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