Senior Lawyer Kalpathy Venkataraman Viswanathan, who this morning took oath as a judge of the Supreme Court of India, has had a long and difficult journey to the top court. He will become the Chief Justice of India upon the retirement of Justice JB Pardiwala on August 11, 2030, and remain in the post till May 25, 2031.
Justice KV Viswanathan came to Delhi from Tamil Nadu in 1988 and started practising in the Supreme Court while staying in a room in South Delhi’s RK Puram. He is the third person from Tamil Nadu to become the CJI, also the fourth — after SM Sikri, UU Lalit, and PS Narasimha — to be appointed directly from the bar
The 57-year-old hails from Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi town and lives near Coimbatore. Justice KV Viswanathan did his schooling at Pollachi Arokia Matha Matriculation School, went to study at Sainik School Amaravathinagar and then at Udhagai Susaiyappar High School. He did a five-year integrated law course at the Coimbatore Law College.
His father, KV Venkataraman, has been a public prosecutor in Coimbatore.
Justice Vishwanathan’s professional journey began when he came to Delhi in 1988 with a desire to practice as a lawyer in the Supreme Court. He stayed in a central government housing society in RK Puram Sector 1 with a friend on a Rs 200 monthly rent. The area had a significant Tamil population, so he had no difficulty finding a place to live. Justice Viswanathan lived near a Murugan temple in the area and used to eat at the nearby Mahalingam mess. He later shifted to Mohammadpur village, where he lived with three more people.
In Delhi, one has to work as a junior to a senior lawyer. Justice Viswanathan worked with advocate CS Vaidyanathan, who later appeared for Lord Ramlala in the Ayodhya case. He was Mr Vaidyanathan’s junior from 1988 to 90 and appeared in the Supreme Court, High Court, and lower courts.
He then worked as a junior with senior advocate KK Venugopal from 1990 to 1995.
Justice Vishwanathan, who was made a senior advocate in the Supreme Court in 2009, has also served as an additional solicitor for the central government.
In an interesting anecdote from 1991, when Congress leader and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE near Sriperumbudur and a one-man commission headed by Justice MC Jain was asked to investigate the conspiracy behind the murder, Justice Vishwanathan was the court’s translator for his opposing party.
The Jain commission hearing was held at Vigyan Bhawan Annexe in Delhi where Tamil Nadu political party leaders M Karunanidhi, Vaiko, and many others appeared to make statements. Justice Viswanathan appeared before the commission for the AIADMK. The political leaders were speaking in English, but when DMK leader M Karunanidhi started speaking in Tamil, Justice Jain did not know what to do. He asked Justice Viswanathan, “Can you translate Karunanidhi for me?” Justice Vishwanathan said that he was advocating for AIADMK. Justice Jain immediately asked if anyone had any objection to the translation, and nobody raised any issue, after which he translated for the judge.
He has represented many important cases in the Supreme Court and has been appointed as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in many highly sensitive cases.
Justice KV Vishwanathan will be the third Chief Justice of India from Tamil Nadu. Previously, Justice M Patanjali Sastri served as CJI from 1951 to 1954 and in 2013, Justice P Sathasivam held this post for about nine months.