With death there is naturally reconciliation, a certain amount of forgiveness and a tendency to view a person’s life and achievements in a warmer, more generous way. These are difficult sentiments to achieve in respect of Judge Pathak. The man who presided over what one respected intellectual called ‘The Great Betrayal’ – the $470 million sell out with Union Carbide – gained his rewards in this lifetime, as within six months of enacting a travesy of justice against the Bhopal survivors he was granted a position at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The upshot of Pathak’s deal with Carbide is quantifiable: less than 10 Rupees per day per survivor and falling. The following puff attempts a rosier interpretation of Pathak’s venal legacy…
Indian Express, November 20, 2007
Judge who got Union Carbide to pay up was respected internationally
NEW DELHI: Two years ago, around this time in November, when former Chief Justice of India R S Pathak was given the responsibility of conducting an inquiry into the oil-for-food-scam on the basis of Volcker report, he had said, in his usual striking style, “I will conduct the probe with an open mind, uninfluenced by media reports.” The simple, yet characteristic remark, showed his persona of being a disciplinarian all through his life.
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Justice Raghunandan Swaroop Pathak, who passed away in the Capital following a cardiac arrest on Sunday would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on November 25 this year. But fate had other plans which none could alter.
Justice Pathak, in his career, which saw a remarkable journey from a lawyer to a judge and gradually to the Chief Justice of India. Second son of Gopal Swarup Pathak, former Vice-President of the country, Justice Pathak was also one of the few Indian jurists to be appointed as a Judge at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
A man who holds the distinction of being the youngest person to be appointed as a judge, will also be remembered for his landmark ruling in on one of the worst ‘manmade’ disasters — the Bhopal gas tragedy. As the CJI, he headed the bench that directed the US multinational Union Carbide to enter a settlement with the Indian Government, underlining that interest and welfare of lakhs of people affected by the gas leakage was paramount.
Although Justice Pathak in February 1989 refrained from issuing any directions for launching criminal proceedings against top officials of the US firm responsible for the tragedy, he did his bit in offering relief and rehabilitation to the victims by expeditiously settling the case. It was his landmark ruling wherein the Union Carbide was asked to pay $470 million as a full and final settlement to the Indian Government for payment to the victims.
Justice Pathak, who was born in Bareilly, enrolled himself as a lawyer on November 8, 1948 after completing his masters in law from Allahabad University. A thorough professional, the young lawyer became a judge of the Allahabad High Court in 1962. Ten years later, he became the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court and was elevated as the judge of the Supreme Court in 1978. Finally, he took over as the top judge — the Chief Justice of India (CJI) — in December 1986.
Justice Pathak relinquished the august office without completing his tenure on June 18, 1989 barely after he had delivered the Bhopal gas tragedy decision. Acclaimed for knowledge of civil laws, he became one of the few Indian jurists to make a mark at the International Court of Justice.
He will always be remembered as a man who wore several hats. He even served as president of the ad hoc division of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, Switzerland, for several years. Creating his mark in national and international forums alike, Justice Pathak also had the distinction of being a member of the Board of Advisers, Foundation for International Environment Law and Development, London, and the Chairman of the Nehru Trust for Indian Collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
As pointed out by legal expert Fali S Nariman, “Justice Pathak was arguably one of the most popular judges internationally.” Justice Pathak was also elected Chairman of the World Congress on Law and Medicine in 1985 and was the member of the International Panel of Chief Justices on Genetic Technology in Seoul in 1987.
Known for his penchant for excellence, Justice Pathak shouldered responsibilities even in his last years. He headed the commission, set up by the Government in 2002 to inquire into the allegations pertaining to the oil-for-food scam, which continue to create ripples in the Indian politics. Unfazed by the names of people like former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, Justice Pathak made a record of sorts by giving his report within stipulated time.