20 important judgments of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari as Supreme Court judge

From upholding the twin conditions of bail under the PMLA, to upholding the SIT clean chit to PM Narendra Modi in the Gujarat riots case, a look at Justice Maheshwari's important verdict's as an apex court judge.
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari
Justice Dinesh Maheshwari

Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, who was elevated as Supreme Court judge on January 18, 2019, demitted office on May 14.

He was born on May 15, 1958, in Rajasthan. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Maheshwari served as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court from February 12, 2018 to January 17, 2019. Before that, he served as a judge of the Rajasthan High Court and the Allahabad High Court.

Justice Maheshwari presided over several important cases during his tenure as an apex court judge. Here is a look at some of them.

1. Supreme Court upholds ED's powers of arrest, attachment, search & seizure and "twin conditions" for bail

Case Title: Vijay Madanlal Choudhary v. Union of India

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

A three-judge Bench, which included Justice Maheshwari, upheld the validity of Sections 3 (definition of money laundering), 5 (attachment of property), 8(4) [taking possession of attached property], 17 (search and seizure), 18 (search of persons), 19 (powers of arrest), 24 (reverse burden of proof), 44 (offences triable by special court), 45 (offences being cognizable and non-bailable and twin conditions for grant of bail by court) and 50 (statements made to ED officials).

The Court also held that the supply of Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR) under PMLA proceedings is not mandatory since ECIR is an internal document and cannot be equated to a First Information Report (FIR).

It also rejected the argument about proportionality of punishment under the PMLA Act with respect to scheduled offences as being wholly "unfounded".

2. Gujarat Riots: Supreme Court upholds SIT clean chit to PM Narendra Modi; rejects plea by Zakia Jafri

Case Title: Zakia Ahsan Jafri v. State of Gujarat

In this case, the Supreme Court dismissed the plea filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Ehshan Jafri was killed in the infamous Gulbarg Society Massacre during the Gujarat riots.

A three-judge Bench, which included Justice Maheshwari, noted that there was no evidence to suggest a larger criminal conspiracy on part of the State which led to violence.

The Court, therefore, ruled that the SIT's report ought to be held as final.

3. Mother has right to give step-father's surname to child after demise of biological father

Case Title: Akella Lalitha v. Konda Rao and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court observed that a mother who is the sole natural guardian of the child has the right to decide the surname of the child, as also give the child up for adoption.

A Division Bench which included Justice Maheshwari set aside a direction of the Andhra Pradesh High Court to a mother to restore her child's original surname from his step-father's surname.

The Court said that such a direction of the High Court to a mother who had remarried after her first husband's death, to restore her child's original surname, was "almost mindless and cruel".

It opined that when a child is adopted into a new home, it is only logical that he takes the surname of the adoptive family.

4. Supreme Court upholds validity of 10 per cent reservation for Economically Weaker Section by 3:2

Case Title: Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment, which grants 10 per cent reservation to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) among the forward castes.

The judgment was delivered by a 3:2 majority.

Justice Maheshwari, who was part of the majority, held that EWS quota does not violate the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

“EWS amendment does not violate the basic structure as it is based in economic criteria, state forming special provision for EWS quota does not violate the basic structure,” he held.

Reservation, he said, is an instrument of affirmative action so as to ensure an all-inclusive march towards the goals of an egalitarian society.

Pertinently, he ruled that the breach of the 50 per cent ceiling (laid down by the Supreme Court in the Indra Sawhney judgment) for reservation is applicable only for reservation with respect to socially backward classes under Article 16(4) and 16(5) of the Constitution.

5. Supreme Court upholds constitutional validity of FCRA Amendment Act, 2020

Case Title: Noel Harper v. Union of India

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2020 (FCRA Amendment Act), which imposed restrictions on the way foreign contributions are handled by organisations based in India.

A three-Judge Bench, which included Justice Maheshwari, said that citizens do not have any right to receive foreign contribution, and that permitting the same is a matter of State policy.

"It is open to the State to have a regime which may completely prohibit receipt of foreign donation, as no right inheres in the citizen to receive foreign contribution (donation)," the Court held.

The Court observed that there is "no dearth of donors" in India and asked charitable associations to focus on donors within the country, to obviate the influence of foreign countries.

6. Supreme Court upholds Central Vista redevelopment by 2:1 majority

Case Title: Rajeev Suri v. Delhi Development Authority and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court gave the green signal to the redevelopment of New Delhi's Central Vista area, rejecting a batch of petitions challenging the scheme for alleged violation of land use and environmental norms.

A three-Judge Bench, which included Justice Maheshwari, by a 2:1 majority held that the exercise of the power under the Delhi Development Authority Act was just and valid and that the grant of environmental clearances by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was also valid and proper.

"Selection and appointment of environmental consultant in the case is held to be just and proper. Modifications regarding change in land use stand confirmed," reads the majority judgment by Justices Maheshwari and AM Khanwilkar.

However, Justice Sanjiv Khanna dissented from the majority opinion on the point of change of land use associated with the project. He held that while the award of the project cannot be faulted with, prior approval of the heritage committee was required when it came to change in land use.

7. Fire accident cannot be termed as 'act of god' if it did not happen due to external natural forces

Case Title: State of Uttar Pradesh v. Mcdowell and Company Limited

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court observed that a fire accident cannot be said to be an 'act of God' if it did not happen due to the operation of any forces of nature.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the judgment, held that all natural agencies, as opposed to human activities, constitute acts of God, and not merely those which attain an extraordinary degree of violence or are of very unusual occurrence. The distinction is one of kind and not one of degree, he said.

"When nothing of any external natural force had been in operation in violent or sudden manner, the event of the fire in question could be referable to anything but to an act of God in legal parlance."

8. Wife levelling allegations affecting career and reputation of husband amounts to mental cruelty against him for seeking divorce

Case Title: Joydeep Majumdar v. Bharti Jaiswal Majumdar

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court observed that a wife levelling allegations that affect the career and reputation of her husband amounts to mental cruelty against him for the purpose of seeking divorce.

Justice Maheshwari, who was part of the Bench, noted that in this case, allegations were levelled by a highly educated spouse and they do have the propensity to irreparably damage the character and reputation of the husband.

"When the reputation of the spouse is sullied amongst his colleagues, his superiors and the society at large, it would be difficult to expect condonation of such conduct by the affected party. The explanation of the wife that she made those complaints in order to protect the matrimonial ties would not in our view, justify the persistent effort made by her to undermine the dignity and reputation of the appellant. In circumstances like this, the wronged party cannot be expected to continue with the matrimonial relationship and there is enough justification for him to seek separation," the Court said.

9. Award of compensation cannot be restrictive when the victim is from poor and rural background

Case Title: Shoda Devi v. DDU/Ripon Hospital Shimla and Others

In this case, while enhancing the compensation awarded to a woman who suffered due to medical negligence, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court observed that the responsiveness and diligence of medical professionals has to be equally balanced for all their consumers.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the decision, observed,

"Ordinarily, the general damages towards pain and suffering as also loss of amenities of life deserve to be considered uniformly for the human beings and the award of compensation cannot go restrictive when the victim is coming from a poor and rural background; rather, in a given case like that of the appellant, such a background of the victim may guide the adjudicatory process towards reasonably higher amount of compensation (of course, after having regard to all the attending circumstances)."

The Court also criticized the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, which even after appreciating the troubles and trauma as also disablement and disadvantage suffered by the woman, had been too restrictive in the award of compensation.

10. Rajasthan private schools to give 15% deduction in annual school fees; no student to be debarred for non-payment of fees

Case Title: Indian School, Jodhpur v. State Of Rajasthan

In this case, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court permitted private unaided schools in Rajasthan to collect annual school fees from their students as fixed under the Rajasthan Schools (Regulation of Fee) Act 2016, for the academic year 2019-­20.

The Bench, of which Justice Maheshwari was also part, had directed the schools to provide deduction of 15 per cent on that amount in lieu of unutilised facilities by the students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court held that private schools demanding fees from students for the activities and facilities not availed by them due to the lockdown amounts to 'profiteering' and 'commercialization'.

11. Supreme Court upholds death penalty of man who raped and murdered 8-year-old disabled girl

Case Title: Manoj Pratap Singh v. State of Rajasthan

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty awarded to a 37-year old man for the rape and murder of a seven- -and-a-half-year-old girl who was mentally and physically challenged.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the decision, observed that the crime in question had been of "extreme depravity", particularly given the vulnerable state of the victim and also the manner of committing the crime.

"In the present case, where all the elements surrounding the offence as also all the elements surrounding the offender cut across the balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, we are clearly of the view that there is absolutely no reason to commute the sentence of death to any other sentence of lesser degree. Even the alternative of awarding the sentence of imprisonment for whole of the natural life with no remission does not appear justified in view of the nature of crimes committed by the appellant and looking to his incorrigible conduct."

12. Supreme Court restores KCOCA charges against accused in Gauri Lankesh murder case

Case Title: Kavita Lankesh v. State of Karnataka and Others

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court restored the charges under the Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act, 2000 (KCOCA) against one of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh assassination case, Mohan Nayak.

The appeal before the Supreme Court had alleged that Nayak was actively involved in providing shelter to Lankesh's killers prior to and after the commission of the offence.

The Court held that if the role of the offender is merely that of a facilitator or of an abettor as referred to in Section 3(2), 3(3), 3(4) or 3(5) of KCOCA, the requirement of named person being involved in more than two chargesheets registered against him in the past is not relevant.

Regardless of that, an accused can be proceeded under KCOCA if the material collected by the Investigating Agency "reveals that he had nexus with the accused who is a member of the organized crime syndicate or such nexus is related to the offence in the nature of organized crime," the Court held.

13. Heart ailment not a 'disability' covered under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act

Case Title: Nawal Kishore Sharma v. Union of India

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court observed that a heart ailment (Dilated Cardiomyopathy condition) is not covered within the definition of 'disability' under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

Justice Maheshwari was part of the Bench that found,

"A heart ailment is not covered within the definition of disability in the Act and we would hesitate to import words, which the legislature chose not to, in their definition of disability. When the 1995 Act was replaced by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, "a person with disabilities" was defined under Section 2(s) as a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment which prevent his full and effective participation in society. Section 2(zc) defines, "specified disability" as those mentioned in the Schedule to the 2016 Act. In the said Schedule, "physical disability", "intellectual disability", "mental behaviour", are specified."

14. Supreme Court upholds constitutional validity of rule empowering RAW to compulsorily retire officers

Case Title: Nisha Priya Bhatia v. Union of India and Another

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Rule 135 of the RAW (Recruitment, Cadre and Services) Rules, 1975, which gives power to the Central government to voluntary retire RAW officers whose identity is exposed or compromised.

The Bench, of which Justice Maheshwari was also a part, passed the order while hearing an appeal filed by a female ex-employee of RAW, who had been compulsorily retired after she made allegations of sexual harassment against two senior officials of RAW.

The Court held that an employee working in the organization is certainly conscious of what constitutes "exposure of identity" and hence, there is no inherent vagueness in the impugned provision.

"In Indian constitutional jurisprudence, a duly enacted law cannot be struck down on the mere ground of vagueness unless such vagueness transcends in the realm of arbitrariness… challenge to Rule 135 on the ground of vagueness, could only be sustained if the Rule does not provide a person of ordinary intelligence with a reasonable opportunity to know the scope of the sphere in which the Rule would operate," the Court held.

15. Chief Judicial Magistrates competent to entertain applications under Section 14 SARFAESI Act

Case Title: The Authorised Officer, Indian Bank v. D Visalakshi and Another

In this case, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court held that a Chief Judicial Magistrate is equally competent to deal with an application moved by a secured creditor under Section 14 of the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act (SARFAESI Act).

The Court held that "Chief Metropolitan Magistrate" should include "Chief Judicial Magistrate".

"...it must follow that substitution of functionaries (CMM as CJM) qua the administrative and executive or so to say non­judicial functions discharged by them in light of the provisions of Cr.P.C., would not be inconsistent with Section 14 of the 2002 Act...That would be a meaningful, purposive and contextual construction of Section 14 of the 2002 Act, to include CJM as being competent to assist the secured creditor to take possession of the secured asset," the Court said.

16. 100% burn injuries by itself does not mean victim was incapable of making dying declaration: Supreme Court

Case Title: Purushottam Chopra v. State

In this case, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court observed that merely because a deceased had suffered 100% burn injuries, it cannot be said that he/she was incapable to make a statement which could be acted upon as dying declaration.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the decision, observed that a dying declaration that satisfies all the requirements of judicial scrutiny cannot be discarded merely because it has not been recorded by a magistrate or that the police officer did not obtain attestation by any person present at the time of making of the statement.

In this judgment, the Bench has also summarized the principles enunciated in various precedents:

- A dying declaration could be the sole basis of conviction even without corroboration, if it inspires confidence of the Court.

- The Court should be satisfied that the declarant was in a fit state of mind at the time of making the statement; and that it was a voluntary statement, which was not the result of tutoring, prompting or imagination.

- Where a dying declaration is suspicious or is suffering from any infirmity such as want of fit state of mind of the declarant or of like nature, it should not be acted upon without corroborative evidence.

- When the eye-witnesses affirm that the deceased was not in a fit and conscious state to make the statement, the medical opinion cannot prevail..

- Although presence of a Magistrate is not absolutely necessary for recording of a dying declaration but to ensure authenticity and credibility, it is expected that a Magistrate be requested to record such dying declaration and/or attestation be obtained from other persons present at the time of recording the dying declaration.

17. When can transposition of defendants as plaintiffs be permitted? Supreme Court answers

Case Title: R Dhanasundari @ R Rajeshwari v. AN Umakanth and Others

Here, a Division Hench of the Supreme Court examined the scope of Rule 1A of Order XXIII of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, which deals with the power of a court to permit transposition of defendants as plaintiffs.

Justice Maheshwari, who authored the decision, observed that if the plaintiff is seeking to withdraw or to abandon his claim under Rule 1 of Order XXIII and the defendant seeking transposition has an interest in the subject-matter of the suit, and thereby, a substantial question is to be adjudicated against the other defendant, then the defendants can be transposed as plaintiffs.

The Bench observed that under this provision the powers of the court to grant such a prayer for transposition are very wide and could be exercised for effectual and comprehensive adjudication of all the matters in controversy in a suit. 

18. Suspension of MLA beyond ongoing session unconstitutional as constituency remains unrepresented: Supreme Court

Case Title: Ashish Shelar and Others v. Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and Another

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court quashed the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly's resolution which suspended 12 BJP MLAs for a period of one year for alleged disorderly behaviour in the house.

The Court opined that in exercise of the inherent power of the House, the suspension of the members could not have, in any case, exceeded the remainder period of the ongoing session.

It observed that a representative cannot be kept away from the House under the guise of suspension beyond the necessary period linked to the ongoing Assembly Session, including the timeline referred to in Article 190(4) of the Constitution and Section 151A of Representation of People Act, 1951.

19. Unequivocal statements made by counsel will be binding on clients: Supreme Court

Case Title: Om Kumar v. Suresh Kumar

In this case, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court observed that unequivocal statements made by counsel will be binding on their clients.

The Court noted that in this case, an unequivocal statement was made by the counsel engaged by the landlord to espouse his cause before the High Court. It also noted that there is no case that he had expressly instructed his counsel not to make such a statement.

In this regard, it observed,

"The engagement was in respect of eviction proceedings and the statement was in relation to the commitment of the appellant qua the subject matter thereof and being an unequivocal statement, it will be binding on the appellant."

20. Res Judicata is attracted not only in separate subsequent proceedings, but also at subsequent stage of the same proceeding: Supreme Court

Case Title: S Ramachandra Rao v. S Nagabhushana Rao

A Division Bench of the Supreme Court held that a binding decision cannot be ignored even on the principle of per incuriam because that principle applies to precedents and not to the doctrine of res judicata.

The judgment authored by Justice Maheshwari discussed the doctrine of res judicata and its application. It observed,

"This doctrine of res judicata is attracted not only in separate subsequent proceedings but also at the subsequent stage of the same proceedings. Moreover, a binding decision cannot lightly be ignored and even an erroneous decision remains binding on the parties to the same litigation and concerning the same issue, if rendered by a Court of competent jurisdiction. Such a binding decision cannot be ignored even on the principle of per incuriam because that principle applies to the precedents and not to the doctrine of res judicata."

Other important orders/observations by Justice Maheshwari

1. Wanting an updated laptop not a ground for adjournment

Case Title: Dr Lal Bahadur v. Prabhat Kumar Sarangi and Others

In this case, the Supreme Court had expressed its displeasure with a petitioner appearing in person seeking adjournment on grounds of wanting an updated laptop or desktop with him.

After noting that the petitioner had circulated a letter seeking adjournment for this reason, Justice Maheshwari, who was heading the bench, observed,

The petitioner has now circulated a letter stating want of updated laptop or desktop with him and, therefore, wants adjournment in this matter until 13.03.2022. We find no reason to grant such a long adjournment in this matter, particularly when arrangements have also been made for virtual hearing from the Court Campus through Video Conferencing Facilitation Centre. However, having regard to the circumstances, the matter stands adjourned today. Be listed on 28.02.2022. It shall be required of the petitioner to make appropriate arrangements to address the Court on the next date of hearing."

2. Supreme Court stays Puri Rath Yatra and related activities amid COVID-19 threat

Case Title: Odisha Vikash Parisad v. Union of India and Others

In this case, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered that no Rath Yatra should be held in the Lord Jagannath Temple in Odisha in the year 2020, on account of the pandemic situation.

While ordering stay on the yatra, the bench of which Justice Maheshwari was also the part, had remarked that,

"We are not allowing this. Lord Jagannath will not forgive us if we allow this to continue. Activities related to the Rath Yatra are injuncted."

3. Supreme Court cannot be place for governments to walk in when they choose, ignoring period of limitation

Case Title: State of Madhya Pradesh and Others v. Bherulal

A Bench of Justices Maheshwari and SK Kaul remarked that the Supreme Court cannot be a place for governments to walk in when they choose, ignoring the period of limitation prescribed.

The Court imposed costs of ₹25,000 on the State of Madhya Pradesh for delay caused 'due to unavailability of the documents and the process of arranging the documents'. The State had also submitted that this was how "bureaucratic process works".

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