Former Chief Justice of India
Assumed Office1st Oct, 1959
Retired On31st Jan, 1964
Retires from the Supreme CourtJanuary 31st, 1964
Pro-chancellor, Delhi University1959-1954
Appointed as Chief Justice of IndiaOctober 1st, 1959
Judge, Supreme CourtDecember 3rd, 1954-September 30th, 1959
Chief Justice, Nagpur High CourtFebruary 24th, 1951-1954
Chairman, Commission of Inquiry into strikes in the sugarcane industry1950
Permanent Judge, Patna High CourtDecember 6th, 1943-1951
Sworn in as Additional Judge, Patna High CourtJanuary 6th, 1943
Assistant Government Advocate1940-1942
Member, Senate of the Faculty of Law and Board of Examiners of Law, Patna University 1932-1951
Lecturer of Law, Government Law College, Patna1926-1935
Vakil, Patna High Court1922-1927
Born on February 1st, 1989, Justice Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha served as the 6th Chief Justice of India. Justice Sinha served as CJI for five years—a tenure exceeded only by former Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud, who served for just over seven years.
Justice Sinha was born into a landowning family residing in Bihar’s Ghazipur district. Although the family had accrued wealth through its small-scale zamindari tributes, the spiritual endeavours of Sinha J’s father depleted much of the family’s wealth over the years. By the time Sinha J finished his primary education at Arrah Zilla School, his family had lost much of its monetary standing.
Sinha J, the first university graduate in his family, went on to Patna University to study history. He was a gold medalist in the subject at the undergraduate level (1919). While pursuing a postgraduate degree in history (1921), he simultaneously pursued a Bachelor of Laws—eventually earning his degree in 1922.
He began practising at the Patna High Court in 1922, and by 1935, was appointed as Government Pleader. Sinha J rose up the ranks between 1940 to 1942, when he served as Assistant Government Advocate. He was appointed as an Additional Judge at the Patna High Court on 6 January 1943, with a permanent appointment at the Court confirmed by December of the same year.
On February 24th, 1951, Sinha J was appointed as Chief Justice of the Nagpur High Court at the age of 52. Sinha J’s appointment came at the behest of then Union Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel—even if the Nagpur Court was displeased with an ‘outsider’ being transferred to its highest office. Although the transfer appeared surprising, Sinha J surmised that he may never be elevated to Chief Justice at the Patna High Court, despite his eight years of service. Sinha J belonged to the Rajput caste, and, as he writes in his autobiography Reminiscences and Reflections of a Chief Justice, “unfortunately, Bihar is notorious for its indulgence in caste distinctions.”
Nevertheless, this prejudice may not have afflicted Sinha J’s career for much longer—on December 3rd, 1954 he was appointed as a Judge at the Supreme Court. Five years later, on October 1st, 1959, he was appointed as Chief Justice of India. Sinha J retired from the CJI’s office five years later on January 31st, 1954—going on to live a relatively quiet life post-retirement. He passed away on November 12th, 1986, at the age of 87.
Across his nine years at the Supreme Court, Sinha J authored 137 Judgements and sat on 685 Benches.
Sinha J primarily adjudicated on Constitutional, civil, and criminal matters.
An 11-Judge Bench of the SC, in State of Bombay v Kathi Kalu Ogad, 1961, engaged with the question of whether gathering fingerprints, handwriting, and DNA samples are violative of the Right Against Self-Incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India, 1950. As per this provision, no person can be compelled to be a witness against themselves. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice B.P. Sinha clarified that providing physical evidence to the police did not make the accused a ‘witness’ against himself. As per the ordinary sense of the term, the word ‘witness’ referred to someone providing oral testimony in Court. Consequently, gathering fingerprints, handwriting samples and DNA samples did not violate Article 20(3).
Writing for the majority in Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin v State of Bombay, 1962, Sinha CJI upheld the right and power of ex-communication bestowed on the Head Priest of the Dawoodi Bohra community. The Court applied the ‘Essential Religious Practices’ test in assessing whether the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act, 1949, which barred the Head Priest of the Dawoodi Bohra community from excommunicating its members, violated the Right to Religious Expression and the Rights of a Religious Denomination under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. The Court observed that what constitutes a religious practice must be gleaned from the texts and tenets of the religion. The Legislature is not permitted to reform a religion out of existence.
In Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar, 1962, a seven-Judge Bench of the SC upheld the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalised sedition. Sinha CJI, writing for the Court, conceded that the criminalisation of sedition imposed a restriction on the Right to Free Speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950. However, Section 124A imposed a ‘reasonable restriction’ within the meaning of Article 19(2) (which states the restrictions that may be imposed on the Right to Free Speech) and could not be struck down. Sinha CJI clarified that criticism of the government did not amount to sedition unless it was accompanied by an incitement or call for violence.
Life Outside the Courtroom
Sinha J was actively involved in educational activities in parallel to his legal career. While practising at the Patna High Court, he also served as a Lecturer of Law at Patna’s Government Law College between 1926 to 1935. As he deepened his roots in the Patna High Court over the next two decades, he simultaneously served as a member of the Senate of the Faculty of Law and the Board of Examiners of Law at Patna University between 1932 to 1951. While serving as CJI, he was also the Pro-Chancellor of Delhi University.
Somewhat surprisingly, Sinha J took up few government opportunities post-retirement. At the request of the SCI or private individuals, he would take specific arbitration proceedings. Unlike his industrious successor Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar, he served on no Commissions of Inquiries either.
Extending the longevity of Sinha J’s legacy in the Judiciary were his son and grandson. His son Rameshwar Prasad Sinha served as a Judge at the Patna High Court from 1973 to 1982. Sinha J’s grandson, Bisheshwar Prasad Singh, joined the Bench at the High Court in 1987—he was elevated to the SC in 2001.