The term Chief Justice of India refers to the highest judge in the Supreme Court of India. This also makes it the highest judicial position obtainable by a judge in India. The Chief Justice not only heads the administrative functions of the Supreme Court but also sits actively as a presiding judge in Court No. 1 of the Supreme Court of India.
On the administrative side, the Chief Justice carries out the following functions;
As the chief judge, the Chief Justice is also responsible for the allocation of cases and appointment of constitutional benches which deal with important matters of law. In terms of Article 145 of the Constitution of India and the Supreme Court Rules of Procedure of 1966, the Chief Justice allocates the work to the other judges who are bound to refer the matter to him in case they require the matter to be looked into by a bench of higher strength.
Under the Constitution of India, in terms of Article 124 the manner of appointment of the judges to the Supreme Court was provided. However there was no specific provision as to the appointment of the Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. Therefore the process for the appointment of the judges to the Supreme Court was followed for the Chief Justice as well. This in practice meant that the most senior judge in the Supreme Court would be proposed by the Government of India to the President who would approve the same and thus the Chief Justice would be appointed. Here seniority did not mean the age but meant the seniority within the Supreme Court. Therefore the judge with the most experience in the Supreme Court was generally nominated by the Government and he would be appointed as the Chief Justice.
However this convention was breach on a number of occasions, most notable of which was the appointment of Chief Justice A.N. Ray who was appointed as the Chief Justice superseding three judges who were senior to him. This was done during the time when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. This was allegedly done as he was considered liberal and understood to be supporting the government in its actions and Indira Gandhi, who at that times was facing constitutional crisis, with her appointment being challenged by activist Raj Narain and major legal barriers remained to her continuance as the Prime Minister.
After the Emergency, the Supreme Court in a _An_Assertive_Supreme_Court conferred a lot of powers to itself. One of these was the declaration (in the constitutional bench S.P. Gupta - II case) that the Government of India would be bound to nominate only the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court for the position of Chief Justice, thereby ruling out any possible abuse by the Government or its ability to influence the judiciary. Since then the convention has been followed without any exceptions.
Once appointed, the Chief Justice remains in office until his retirement or unless removed by impeachment or by resignation.
|No.||Name||Took office||Left office||Originating State||Major decisions during tenure as Chief Justice|
|01||H. J. Kania||August 15 1947||November 16 1951||Bombay (now Maharashtra)||AK Gopalan v. Union of India|
|02||M. P. Sastri||November 16 1951||January 3 1954||Madras (now Tamil Nadu)|
|03||Mehr Chand Mahajan||January 3 1954||December 22 1954||Lahore/Kashmir|
|04||B. K. Mukherjea||December 22 1954||January 31 1956||West Bengal|
|05||Sudhi Ranjan Das||January 31 1956||September 30 1959||West Bengal|
|06||Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha||September 30 1959||January 31 1964||Bihar|
|07||P. B. Gajendragadkar||January 31 1964||March 15 1966||Bombay (now Maharashtra)|
|08||A. K. Sarkar||March 16 1966||June 29 1966||West Bengal|
|09||K. Subba Rao||June 30 1966||April 11 1967||Madras (now Tamil Nadu)||Golak Nath vs. The State of Punjab|
|10||K. N. Wanchoo||April 12 1967||February 24 1968||Uttar Pradesh|
|11||M. Hidayatullah||February 25 1968||December 16 1970||present Chattisgarh|
|12||J. C. Shah||December 17 1970||January 21 1971||present Gujarat|
|13||S. M. Sikri||January 22 1971||April 25 1973||Punjab||Kesavananda Bharati vs. The State of Kerala|
|14||A. N. Ray||April 25 1973||January 28 1977||West Bengal||ADM Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla|
|15||Mirza Hameedullah Beg||January 29 1977||February 21 1978||Uttar Pradesh|
|16||Y. V. Chandrachud||February 22 1978||July 11 1985||Bombay (now Maharashtra)|
|17||P. N. Bhagwati||July 12 1985||December 20 1986||Bombay (now Maharashtra)|
|18||R. S. Pathak||December 21 1986||June 6 1989||Uttar Pradesh|
|19||E. S. Venkataramiah||June 19 1989||December 17 1989||Mysore (now Karnataka)|
|20||S. Mukharji||December 18 1989||September 25 1990||West Bengal|
|21||Ranganath Misra||September 25 1990||November 24 1991||Orissa|
|22||Kamal Narain Singh||November 25 1991||December 12 1991||Uttar Pradesh|
|23||M. H. Kania||December 13 1991||November 17 1992||Maharashtra|
|24||L. M. Sharma||November 18 1992||February 11 1993||Bihar|
|25||M. N. Venkatachaliah||February 12 1993||October 24 1994||Karnataka|
|26||A. M. Ahmadi||October 25 1994||March 24 1997||Gujarat|
|27||J. S. Verma||March 25 1997||January 18 1998||Madhya Pradesh|
|28||M. M. Punchhi||January 18 1998||October 9 1998||Punjab|
|29||A. S. Anand||October 10 1998||November 1 2001||Jammu & Kashmir|
|30||S. P. Bharucha||November 2 2001||May 6 2002||Maharashtra|
|31||B. N. Kirpal||May 6 2002||November 11 2002||Delhi|
|32||G. B. Pattanaik||November 11 2002||December 19 2002||Orissa|
|33||V. N. Khare||December 19 2002||May 2 2004||Uttar Pradesh||Best Bakery Case, T.M.A. Pie v. Union of India (reservation in private educational institutions)|
|34||Rajendra Babu||May 2 2004||June 1 2004||Karnataka|
|35||R. C. Lahoti||June 1 2004||November 1 2005||Uttar Pradesh|
|36||Y. K. Sabharwal||November 1 2005||January 14 2007||Delhi||Land Ceiling Case (M.C. Mehta v. Union of India)|
|37||K. G. Balakrishnan||January 14 2007||(incumbent)||Kerala||OBC Reservation case (Ashok Kumar Thakur v. Union of India)|
Since the appointment to the office of the Chief Justice of India has been by convention on basis of seniority, the procedure has been criticised by various jurists and cosntitutional experts as being averse to talent and non-recognition of leading abilities. On this count various judges of the Supreme Court are named who showed inspiring leadership ability but because of the seniority rule could not become the Chief Justice of India. Some of these names have been;