15 important judgments of Justice S Ravindra Bhat as Supreme Court judge

During his tenure at the Supreme Court, Justice Bhat authored around 142 judgments.
Justice S Ravindra Bhat
Justice S Ravindra Bhat

Justice Shripati Ravindra Bhat recently demitted office as a judge of the Supreme Court of India after a tenure of more than four years.

He was born on October 21, 1958, in Karnataka. Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Bhat served as Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court from May 5, 2019 to September 23, 2019. Before that, he served as a judge of the Delhi High Court.

During his tenure at the apex court, Justice Bhat authored around 142 judgments.

Here is a look at some important verdicts.

1. Supreme Court says no legal recognition of same-sex marriage; holds by 3:2 that there is no right for Queer couples to adopt children

Case Title: Supriyo @ Supriya Chakraborty and Another v. Union of India

A five-judge Constitution Bench unanimously refused to legally recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. By a 3:2 majority, the Court also declined the right of queer couples to adopt children.

Justice Bhat, who was in the majority alongside Justices Hima Kohli and PS Narasimha, held that civil unions between same sex couples are not recognized under law.

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul were in the minority.

The majority directed the State to ensure that the right of queer couples to cohabit is not interfered with. It also issued directions to the State to ensure that queer and transgender persons are not subjected to involuntary medical or surgical treatment.

Importantly, Justice Bhat in his decision also argued that certain observations made by Justice Chandrachud (as he then was) in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India judgment that decriminalized gay sex, went beyond the remit of the Supreme Court and were unnecessary.

Read more about the majority and minority view here.

2. Supreme Court upholds EWS quota by 3:2 majority; Justice Bhat in minority

Case Title: Janhit Abhiyan v. Union of India with 32 connected matters

In this case, a five-judge Constitution Bench, by a 3:2 majority, upheld the validity of the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which introduced 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in education and public employment.

Justice Bhat, who authority the minority opinion for himself and then Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, held the 103rd Constitutional Amendment as unconstitutional for excluding the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from reservation.

Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, Bela M Trivedi and JB Pardiwala were in the majority.

In his dissenting judgment, Justice Bhat observed that the total and absolute exclusion of constitutionally recognised backward classes of citizens and, more acutely, the SC and ST communities, is nothing but discrimination which undermines the equality code.

He further reasoned that the exclusionary principle in the amendment separated those subjected to socially questionable and outlawed practices, though they are amongst the poorest sections of society.

Read more about the majority and minority view here.

3. [Maratha Reservation] Supreme Court holds states have no power to identify socially and educationally backward classes after 102nd Constitution Amendment; Justice Bhat in majority

Case Title: Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister

A five-judge Constitution Bench struck down the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 which extended reservation to the Maratha community in public education and employment.

The Court said that there were no extraordinary circumstances to grant reservation to the Maratha community over and above the 50 per cent ceiling on reservation prescribed by the Supreme Court in its 1992 judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India.

It was held that the SEBC Act violates the principles of equality and that exceeding the ceiling of 50 per cent clearly violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.

However, the Bench differed on the interpretation of Article 342A of the Constitution, which was inserted by 102nd Constitutional Amendment.

Justice Bhat, who was part of the majority alongside Justices L Nageswara Rao and Hemant Gupta, held that under Article 342A, the President alone is empowered to identify socially and educationally backward classes and notify them in the list. States can only make suggestions for inclusion of SEBC in that list.

4. Supreme Court sets aside POCSO 'skin to skin' judgment of Bombay High Court

Case Title: Attorney General for India v. Satish

A three-judge Bench set aside a controversial Bombay High Court judgment which had held that pressing the breast of a child without removing her clothes will not amount to 'sexual assault' under Section 7 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act since there was no “skin-to-skin” contact.

The Bench, of which Justice Bhat was part, held that an ingredient of the offence of 'sexual assault' under the POCSO Act is sexual intent and 'skin to skin contact' is not relevant.

The law has to be given an interpretation that gives effect to the intention of the legislature instead of defeating it, the Court underscored.

5. Supreme Court issues 14 directions ensure manual scavenging is completely eradicated

Case Title: Dr Balram Singh v. Union of India and Others

The Court in October 2023 issued fourteen directions aimed at eradicating manual scavenging in India.

Justice Bhat, who authored the decision, emphasized that the battle against manual scavenging is not merely about wealth, but about human dignity.

Further, the Court underlined the duty of citizens to embrace true fraternity, without which rights are mere illusions. It was underscored that contracts that do not provide cleaners with necessary gear and devices are unconstitutional.

Among the fourteen directions, Justice Bhat's decision mandated at least ₹30 lakh as compensation for sewer deaths, at least ₹20 lakh for permanent disablement and at least ₹10 lakh for other disablement cases.

6. Supreme Court issues directions for speedy disposal of civil cases

Case Title: Yashpal Jain v. Sushila Devi and Others

A Bench of which Justice Bhat was part called for urgent reforms in the country's judicial system so as to tackle delays and clear the backlog of civil cases in courts across the country.

"The time for procrastination is long past, for justice cannot be a casualty of bureaucratic inefficiency. We must act now, for the hour is late, and the call for justice is unwavering. Let us, as guardians of the law, restore the faith of our citizens in the promise of a just and equitable society...In the halls of justice, let not the echoes of delay and pendency drown out the clarion call of reform," the Court said.

Read the directives here.

7. Rakhi as bail condition turns "molester into brother" by judicial mandate: Supreme Court

Case Title: Aparna Bhat v. State of Madhya Pradesh

In this case, the Court held that directing a person accused of sexual assault to get Rakhi tied on him by the victim as a condition for grant of bail effectively turns molester into brother by judicial mandate and is an example of "judicial stereotyping".

Justice Bhat, who authored the decision, made certain pertinent observations in this regard while setting aside a July 2020 order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had directed a man accused of sexual assault to get Rakhi tied on his wrist by the victim as a condition for bail.

The Court passed seven key directions to be adhered to by courts while passing bail orders in cases of sexual offences.

Read the directives here.

In furthering the directives of this judgment, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud recently launched a handbook on combating gender stereotypes, which refers to the directives of Justice Bhat's judgment.

8. Supreme Court directs High Courts, state DGPs to ensure compliance with Arnesh Kumar guidelines to avoid unnecessary arrests

Case Title: Md. Asfak Alam v. State of Jharkhand and Another

Justice Bhat authored a decision ordering the issue of circulars, notifications and instructions to ensure that police authorities and criminal courts strictly adhere to the guidelines on arrest laid down in the 2014 Arnesh Kumar case.

Directors General of Police (DGPs) in all states were directed to ensure strict compliance with such guidelines.

Read the directives here.

9. Firings at Delhi courts appalling; only CCTV not enough for safety: Supreme Court issues a slew of directions

Case Title: Prayuman Bisht v. Union of India

A Bench of Justices Bhat and Dipankar Datta issued a host of directions to enhance safety and security in courts and towards the digitization of courtrooms across the country.

The Court stressed that the safety and security of stakeholders in the judicial system are non-negotiable, and expressed that it was appalled that the courts in Delhi have witnessed at lease three major incidents of gunfire over the past year.

It added that the mere installation of CCTV cameras may not be enough to tackle such incidents. It further noted that there were immediate measures that must be carried out to address the issue, apart from long term solutions that may be implemented over time.

Read the directives here.

10. Supreme Court issues guidelines to be implemented uniformly in matters of conviction of offences that can invite a death sentence

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

In this case, a three-judge Bench commuted the death sentences of three murder convicts to life imprisonment for a minimum of 25 years after noting that courts must show restraint in balancing public opinion with facts of the case.

Justice Bhat, who authored the decision, relied on the test laid out in Bachan Singh to stress that examining the mitigating circumstances of such cases must be carried out liberally and expansively, even in brutal crimes.

The Court, therefore, issued guidelines to be implemented uniformly in matters of conviction of offences that can invite a death sentence.

Read the guidelines here.

11. Corruption has become a way of life; botched investigations in these cases are more distressing: Supreme Court

Case Title: State of Chhattisgarh v. Aman Kumar Singh

A Bench comprising Justice Bhat delivered a strongly-worded judgment, that lamenting the pervasive corruption that is preventing equal distribution of wealth in India, and has regrettably become a way of life.

The Bench made the observations while setting aside a judgment of the Chhattisgarh High Court which quashed a First Information Report (FIR) against an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer and a former State government consultant.

The Court opined that it is desirable that the High Courts do not quash corruption cases at the investigation stage, even if it is suspected that the case has been registered by a new government against officers of the previous government.

It further went on to note that what was more distressing were the inquiries that follow common outbreaks of scams. More often than not, these are botched and assume the proportion of bigger scandals than the scams themselves, the Court said.

12. Section 37 NDPS Act should not be interpreted literally to render bail impossible: Supreme Court

Case Title: Mohd Muslim @ Hussain v. State (NCT of Delhi)

A verdict authored by Justice Bhat held that undue delay in trial can be a ground for grant of bail to an accused charged under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS Act), despite the stringent conditions provided under Section 37.

The Court held that laws which impose stringent conditions for grant of bail may be necessary in public interest, yet, if trials are not concluded in time, the injustice on the individual is immeasurable.

A plain and literal interpretation of the conditions under Section 37 (the Court should be satisfied that the accused is not guilty and would not commit any offence) would effectively make grant of bail impossible, it added.

13. Democracy is an essential feature of the Constitution, yet no recognition of fundamental right to vote: Supreme Court

Case Title: Bhim Rao Baswanth Rao Patil v. K Madan Mohan Rao and Others

The Court described as paradoxical the fact that the right to vote has not been recognised as a fundamental right in India, despite democracy being an essential facet of the Constitution.

Justice Bhat, who authored the decision, stressed that democracy being an essential feature of the Constitution and the right to vote being a statutory right, the voter has the right to know about the full background of a candidate.

It went on to underscore that a voter’s right to know about the full background of a candidate, as evolved through precedents, is an added dimension to the rich tapestry of our constitutional jurisprudence.

14. IBC overrides Electricity Act, creditors should be repaid before settling government dues: Supreme Court

Case Title: Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited v. Raman Ispat Private Limited and Others

Justice Bhat ruled that the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code of 2016 (IBC) overrides the provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003, in view of Section 238 of the IBC.

The Court clarified that creditors under the IBC, both secured and unsecured, are entitled to have their debts repaid first before dues payable to the State or the Central governments are settled.

The Court placed substantial emphasis on the 'waterfall mechanism' under Section 53 of the IBC. It noted that even secured creditors who do not relinquish rights to enforce security interest ,and unsecured creditors, rank higher than government agencies who are owed money by the corporate debtor, as per the scheme of repayment under Section 53 of IBC.

15. Centre, states may consider imposing lockdown to curb COVID-19 virus in the interest of Public Welfare: Supreme Court

Case Title: In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a three-judge Bench had issued a series of directives to the Central and state governments to curb the spread of the virus, secure essential supplies and enhance public awareness.

The Bench, of which Justice Bhat was part, emphasized the significance of sharing information widely and transparently as a crucial tool in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. It asked for information on vaccine pricing and distribution among states.

It also directed the Central government, in collaboration with the states, to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances.

During the pandemic, Justice Bhat had himself taken to the streets of Delhi to extend relief to migrants fleeing from the city.

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