Legal luminary and former judge of the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court, Justice P.B. Sawant, who was one of the co-conveners of the Elgar Parishad in 2017, passed away here following a cardiac arrest on Monday, his family said.
A former Chairman of Press Council of India, Justice Sawant was 90 and breathed his last at his family home here around 9.30 a.m.
Justice Sawant is survived by his wife Jayashree, a lawyer son Vishwajeet and two daughters Sujata and Rajashri, his grandson Aditya told IANS.
His last rites will be performed in Pune on Tuesday after his son reaches here, said another family member.
After a thriving legal practice in Mumbai, Justice Sawant was appointed judge of Bombay High Court in 1973 and later elevated to the Supreme Court in 1989.
Among his notable early achievements was probing the crash of the Air India aircraft ‘Gauri Shankar’ on a Kuala Lumpur-Mumbai flight, which crashed during hard-landing at Mumbai’s Sahar International Airport on June 21, 1982, during a thunderstorm, killing at least 17 passengers.
Associated with many human rights, civil liberties, public and social causes, Justice Sawant was one of the three judges – along with late Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and late Justice H. Suresh – of an independent panel, Indian Peoples Tribunal that probed the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat in 2002.
In 2003, he headed the Justice P.B. Sawant Commission of Enquiry to probe social crusader Kisan Baburao alias Anna Hazare’s corruption allegations against four ministers of the then Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra.
Later, the Commission’s observations created a massive political furore and led to the resignation of two Cabinet ministers.
On December 31, 2017, Justice Sawant along with his colleague Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil co-convened the Elgar Parishad followed by a series of repercussions like caste riots in Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018, the police swoop on alleged urban Maoists from different parts of India and culminated in a major socio-political churning.
“Justice Sawant was a very ideal, public-minded and dignified person. He excelled in every field as a judge, as an activist, as a social worker… The manner in which he conducted himself in public life serves as an example to all of us,” said retired Justice Kolse-Patil, crusader and a personal friend of Justice Sawant.
Maharashtra Trade Unions Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) convener Vishwa Utagi described Justice Sawant as a “pillar of strength to the cause of the working class, a fierce upholder of civil and human rights for citizens” whose loss will be felt deeply.
Well-known activist lawyer Asim Sarode said Justice Sawant was a reformer in the socio-legal fields who regularly used to guide and mentor young lawyers, exhorting them to work for social justice through the legal profession.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said he was pained to learn of Justice Sawant’s passing and condoled the bereaved family.
Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan described Justice Sawant’s demise as a “great loss for Maharashtra’s progressive movement” as he strove for secularism and equality after retiring as a judge.
Several prominent personalities from the legal, social and political arenas have condoled the demise of Justice Sawant.