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Judge who once stood up

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The hammer of justice has lost a “smiling assassin”.

Justice G.S. Singhvi, who upheld gay sex as a punishable offence, retired from the Supreme Court today after the landmark verdict.

It was one of several during his six years at the top court from the judge who was known for his integrity and liberal approach in giving relief to the downtrodden.

But he could be tough with lawyers. Always smiling in the court hall, he would pull up advocates for their shortcomings. It earned him the sobriquet “smiling assassin”.

The judge had shot into prominence in February 2012 when he, along with Justice A.K. Ganguly, who too has retired, ordered the cancellation of 122 telecom licences. The judgment continues to haunt the UPA government. He had also ordered a CBI probe into the Niira Radia tapes.

Justice Singhvi commanded so much respect among the advocates that even senior lawyers like Harish Salve, Mukul Rohtagi, Fali Nariman, Gopal Subramanium thought it prudent not to argue beyond a point.

In his court, junior and mid-level lawyers could walk in and get relief in cases involving the poor. There are nearly half a dozen judgments in which Justice Singhvi had struck down land acquisitions by state governments and directed that the plot be restored to the owners or due compensation paid.

Son of a prominent lawyer in Rajasthan, Justice Singhvi would have become the Chief Justice of India but for his reported stand in launching an unprecedented boycott of Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2005. Justice Singhvi, who was a judge of the high court, does not want to discuss the issue any more.

“Yes, that incident really cost him the post of CJI. He is not retiring as Chief Justice of India because he stood up for striking judges in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in mid-2005 when they were protesting against the then high court chief justice,” said additional solicitor general Paras Kuhad who was his junior advocate before Justice Singhvi’s elevation to the bench.

A diabetic, Justice Singhvi underwent an angioplasty recently and restricts himself to a simple diet. But he can surprise a visitor with his hospitality, making it a point to serve the snacks and tea himself.

When this reporter, who had the privilege of visiting the judge twice at his residence on a courtesy call, once reached out to pick up a snack, Justice Singhvi said he considered it his privilege to serve. It was the same with the tea. He insisted that he should be allowed to serve.

Justice Singhvi’s son is a practising advocate. But he has never appeared in the top court in the last six years.