J. Bhagawati graduated Elphinstone College, Mumbai, by obtaining a degree in Mathematics (Hons.) from Bombay University in 1941. However, in 1942,he was arrested for taking part in the independence movement. On his release,he pursued further studies and accomplished a law degree from Government Law College, Mumbai.
He stepped into the legal profession from practice in Bombay High Court. After a couple of years, he was appointed as the Judge of Gujarat High Court in 1960. In seven years, he became the Chief Justice of the same court.
He also briefly served as the governor of Gujarat twice in the year 1967 and 1973. After this, he was elevated as the Supreme Court Judge in 1973.His calibre and intellect had earned him a lot of respect. Therefore, it wasn’ta surprise when he became the Chief Justice of India in 1985.
He is credited for transforming the Indian legal system by introducing the concepts of public interest litigation and absolute liability.This led to a lot of judicial activism in the country. However, it was seenthat during his career, he was politically active in the sense that he would usually take the government’s side in most of his cases. When Indira Gandhi was in power, he took her side in the controversial case of ADM Jabalpur vs Shivakant Shukla where decided in favour of a suspension of fundamental rights during an emergency. Similarly, he backed up the Janata party-led government when they were in power against Indira Gandhi and then went on to change sides again when Indira Gandhi rose to power in 1980.
One of his praiseworthy judgements is that of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India where he held that article 21 and article 19 of the Constitution were violated by the government’s action of seizing Maneka Gandhi’s passport and preventing her from travelling out of the country.
He was a judicial person of international acclaim as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee from 1995 to 2009, being re-elected to the post after every two years. During this time, he also served as the chairman of the committee between 2001-2003. His contributions to International Law are well known from his association as a member of the committee of experts of the International Labour Organisation as well which he was a part of for over 27 years.
One of his highest achievements is the Padma Vibhushan which was awarded to him for his role in public affairs. After serving in various capacities and providing insights into various areas of law, he finally said goodbye to the world on 15th June 2017 at the age of 95.