15 important judgments of Justice Vineet Saran as Supreme Court judge

From granting relief to Vinod Dua, to upholding the validity of the SC/ST Amendment Act, Justice Saran passed some important judgments during his tenure of almost four years at the Supreme Court.
Justice Vineet Saran
Justice Vineet Saran

Justice Vineet Saran, who was elevated as Supreme Court judge on August 7, 2018, demitted office on Tuesday, May 10.

Born in 1957, Justice Saran enrolled as an advocate with the Uttar Pradesh Bar Council in July 1980, and practised in the Allahabad High Court till February 2002, when he was elevated as a permanent judge of that High Court. He was transferred to the Karnataka High Court in February 2015 and was later sworn in as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court in February 2016.

During his tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Saran passed certain notable judgments and orders, some of which have been listed below.

1. Costs on State government for lackadaisical approach in encounter case

Case Title: Yash Pal Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others

In this case, a Bench headed by Justice Vineet Saran imposed costs of ₹7 lakh on the State of Uttar Pradesh in an encounter killing case that took place over 19 years ago.

The top court further noted that due to the manner in which the State proceeded with the case, the petitioner had been compelled to file the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

"Normally, we are slow in entertaining petitions directly filed in this Court but in the extraordinary circumstances of this case, we have entertained this petition to ensure that justice be given to the petitioner, which has been denied for about two decades," Justice Saran noted in his order.

2. Judicial officers can't be considered for direct recruitment as District Judges under quota for lawyers

Case Title: Dheeraj Mor v. Hon'ble High Court of Delhi

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that judicial officers cannot be appointed as district judges through direct recruitment under the quota reserved for members of the Bar.

The Bench held that the rules framed by the Delhi High Court prohibiting barring such appointments were in conformity with Articles 14, 16 and 233 of the Constitution of India.

Justice Saran, who authored the lead judgment alongside Justice Arun Mishra pointed out that in providing two streams of recruitment in the appointment of district judges, "opportunities are provided not only to in-service candidates but also to practicing candidates by the Constitutional Scheme to excel and to achieve what they aspire."

3. No rhyme or reason for Andhra Pradesh government to resort to 100% reservation

Case Title: Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao and Others v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court held that a government order passed by the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh allowing for 100% reservation in teaching posts for Scheduled Tribes in scheduled areas is illegal and impermissible.

The Bench, which included Justice Saran, had ruled that providing 100% reservation is "not permissible under the Constitution of India" and specified that the outer limit for reservations as laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment stands at 50 per cent. The Court also added that the notification was violative of Articles 14 and 16(4) of the Constitution.

4. State legislatures can give preferential reservation to sub-castes

Case Title: State of Punjab and Others v. Davinder Singh and Others

In this case, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of which Justice Saran was part held that state legislatures may make laws to give preferential reservation to sub-castes within categories.

The Bench ruled that once the state has the power to give reservations, it can also make sub-classification to extend benefit to those sub-castes not receiving the benefit.

In doing so, the Court diverged from another Constitution Bench judgment of EV Chinnaiah v. the State of Andhra Pradesh that held the contrary. The Court in this judgment said that EV Chinnaiah needed to be revisited.

5. Constitutionality of SC/ST Amendment Act upheld

Case Title: Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018.

Essentially, Parliament had brought in an amendment to the main legislation to nullify the effect of the Supreme Court’s judgment of March 2018 in Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra. This judgment had effectively diluted provisions of the Act.

The Constitution Bench which included Justice Saran unanimously upheld the validity of the Amendment Act and had ruled that:

"The fraternity assured by the Preamble is not merely a declaration of a ritual handshake or cordiality between communities that are diverse and have occupied different spaces: it is far more. This idea finds articulation in Article 15. That provision, perhaps even more than Article 14, fleshes out the concept of equality by prohibiting discrimination and discriminatory practices peculiar to Indian society. At the center of this idea, is that all people, regardless of caste backgrounds, should have access to certain amenities, services and goods so necessary for every individual."

6. SARFAESI Act applicable to Cooperative Banks

Case Title: Pandurang Ganpati Chaugule v. Vishwasrao Patil Murgud Sahakari Bank Limited

In this case, the Supreme Court held that co­operative banks come under the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Act 2002 (SARFAESI Act).

The Constitution Bench ruled that co-operative banks are "banks" for the purposes of Section 2(1)(c) of the SARFAESI Act, and that the recovery procedure u/s 13 of the Act is also applicable to such banks. Further, co-operative banks registered under state-specific acts and multi­-state level co­operative societies registered under the Multi­ State Co­operative Societies Act, 2002 concerning 'banking' are governed by the legislation relatable to Entry 45 of List I of the 7th Schedule.

7. Sedition case against journalist Vinod Dua quashed

Case Title: Vinod Dua v. Union of India

In this case, the Supreme Court quashed the sedition case registered by the Himachal Pradesh Police against journalist Vinod Dua for his video uploaded on YouTube criticising the Central government's implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Bench headed by Justice UU Lalit ruled that:

"Every Journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of said Sections as explained in, and completely in tune with the law laid down in Kedar Nath Singh."

The Court in its judgment ruled that statements made by Dua regarding the COVID-19 lockdown at best were "expression of disapprobation of actions of the Government and its functionaries so that prevailing situation could be addressed quickly and efficiently".

8. Doctrine of impossibility applicable to court orders

Case Title: State of Uttar Pradesh v. In Re Inhuman Condition at Quarantine Centres and for Providing Better Treatment to Corona Positive

In this case, the Justice Saran-led Bench held that the doctrine of impossibility was applicable to court orders as well. The Bench which also comprised Justice BR Gavai further stated that High Courts should avoid passing orders that are not capable of being implemented.

On a similar issue, Justice Saran's Bench had even decided to examine how far constitutional courts can venture into issues that fall within the executive domain.

This intervention came after the Allahabad High Court had taken a dim view of the medical infrastructure in Uttar Pradesh during the second wave of COVID-19. It had described the situation as "Ram Bharose" (in the hands of God) and had issued a slew of directions to the State.

9. Insider trading cannot be presumed merely on the basis of proximity between the parties

Case Title: Balram Garg v. Securities and Exchange Board of India

In this case, a Bench headed by Justice Saran held that insider trading cannot be presumed merely on the basis of proximity between the parties.

The Bench which also comprised Justice Aniruddha Bose further held that 'communication' of Unpublished Price Sensitive Information under Regulation 3(1) of the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading), 2015 ought to be proved by producing cogent materials, like, letters, emails, witnesses etc. and not be deemed owing to the alleged proximity between the parties and the onus is on the SEBI to prove such communication.

10. AYUSH doctors entitled to equal pay as Allopathy doctors

Case Title: State of Uttarakhand and Others v. Dr Sanjay Singh Chauhan and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court had held that both AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) and allopathy doctors working in government hospitals are entitled to equal pay and discriminating between the two amounts to violation of right to quality under Article 14.

The Justice Saran-led Bench, therefore, upheld an Uttarakhand High Court judgment that set aside the State government's move to grant different pay for AYUSH and allopathy doctors.

11. High Court should not initiate disciplinary proceedings against judicial officer merely because he passed a wrong order

Case Title: Abhay Jain v. High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan

In this case, the Supreme Court held that no disciplinary action can be taken against a judicial officer for merely passing a wrong order, as mere negligence cannot be treated as misconduct in order to terminate the services of the officer.

The Bench of Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran also held that relief-oriented judicial approaches cannot by themselves be grounds to cast aspersions on the honesty and integrity of an officer.

"Every judicial officer is likely to commit mistake of some kind or the other in passing orders in the initial stage of his service, which a mature judicial officer would not do," Justice Saran stated in his judgment.

12. No power of Consumer Forum to extend time beyond 45 days for opposite party's version

Case Title: New India Assurance Company Limited v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited

In this case, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that under the Consumer Protection Act 1986, the time period for filing the opposite party's version in a consumer case cannot be extended beyond the period of 45 days.

The Bench which also comprises Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat further held that the Consumer Protection Act 1986 did not empower the Consumer Forum to extend the time beyond the period of 45 days. The time period prescribed under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act is mandatory, and not a directory.

13. Statutory authorities can review orders only if concerned statute provides such power

Case Title: Naresh Kumar and Others v. Government of NCT of Delhi

In this case, a three-Judge Bench including Justice Saran held that the power of review can be exercised by a statutory authority only when the statute provides for the same.

The Bench which also comprised Justice Arun Mishra and Justice S Ravindra Bhat was considering the question of whether after the passing of the award under Section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the award could be reviewed under any of the provisions of the Act, especially under Section 13-A of the Act.

Justice Saran, who authored the judgment, held that there is no provision under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 for review of the award once passed and the only provision is for correction of clerical errors in the award, which is provided for under Section 13-A of the Act.

14. No exceptional treatment be given to government while considering application for stay of arbitral award

Case Title: Pam Developments Private Limited v. State of West Bengal

In this case, the Supreme Court held that no exceptional treatment should be given to the government while considering an application for stay in proceedings under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996.

The Bench headed by Justice RF Nariman also held that Section 36 of the Arbitration Act does not provide for any special treatment to the government while dealing with grant of stay in an application under proceedings of Section 34.

15. If contempt is on the face of court, immediate action can be taken without giving notice

Case Title: National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms and Others v. Union of India and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court, while holding an advocate guilty of contempt, held that if the contempt is in the face of the court, judges can take immediate action against the contemnor without issuing notice.

Justice Saran, who authored the judgment, observed,

"When contempt is committed in the face of the Court, judges' hands are not tied behind their backs. The majesty of this Court as well as the administration of justice both demand that contemptuous behavior of this kind be dealt with sternly."

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