The Supreme Court fortnightly: 15 important judgments from April 16 to 30, 2023

In this fortnightly series, we capture 15 important judgments delivered by the Supreme Court of India in the past two weeks.
Top 15 Judgments
Top 15 Judgments

In this series, Bar & Bench brings you the top 15 judgments and orders delivered by the Supreme Court of India every two weeks.

Below are our picks for the last two weeks of April 2023.

1. Mere unnatural death of wife in matrimonial home within 7 years of marriage not enough to convict husband for dowry death: Supreme Court

Case Title: Charan Singh @ Charanjit Singh v. State of Uttarakhand

A Division Bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Rajesh Bindal ruled that the mere fact that a wife died under unnatural circumstances in her matrimonial home within seven years of marriage will not by itself be sufficient to convict the husband for dowry death.

The Court noted that to establish an offence of dowry death, the deceased has to be subjected to cruelty or harassment soon before the death. However, while analysing the statement of the father of the deceased in this case, the Court noted that apart from instances of dowry demands in the initial months of marriage, there was nothing in the statement to show that any such demand was raised immediately before the woman's death.

2. Unstamped arbitration agreement not legally valid: Constitution Bench of Supreme Court holds by 3:2 majority

Case Title: NN Global Mercantile Private Limited v. Indo Unique Flame Limited and Others

A Constitution Bench of Justices KM Joseph, Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar held by a 3:2 majority that unstamped arbitration agreements are not valid in law.

"If the original of the instrument is produced and it is unstamped, the Court, acting under Section 139, is duty-bound to act under Section 33 of the Stamp Act...provisions of Sections 33 and the bar under Section 35 of the Stamp Act, applicable to instruments chargeable to stamp duty under Section 3 read with the Schedule to the Stamp Act, would render the Arbitration Agreement contained in such instrument as being non-existent in law unless the instrument is validated under the Stamp Act," the majority opinion penned by Justice Joseph held.

Summing up his dissenting opinion, Justice Rastogi stated,

"The existence of a copy/certified copy of an arbitration agreement whether unstamped/insufficiently stamped at the pre-referral stage is an enforceable document for the purposes of appointment of an Arbitrator under Section 11(6A) of the Act, 1996 where the judicial intervention shall be minimal confined only to the prima facie examination of “existence of an arbitration agreement” alone."

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Roy held,

"The objective behind the enactment of the Arbitration Act, 1996 was to, inter alia, avoid procedural complexity and the delay in litigation before Courts. Impounding and stamping at the Section 11 stage would frustrate the very purpose of the amended Arbitration Act, 1996 as the enforcement of arbitration agreements would be stalled on an issue, which is capable of being resolved at a later stage. To defer stamping to the stage of the arbitrator would in my view achieve the objective of both the Arbitration Act, 1996 and the Stamp Act, 1899."

3. Wholesale quotas frustrate purpose of reservation: Supreme Court asks Madhya Pradesh to review 75% domicile quota in B.Ed colleges

Case Title: Veena Vadini Teachers Training Institute v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Others

A Division Bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Sudhanshu Dhulia held that states should not indulge in wholesale reservation in educational institutes, as the same has been held to be unconstitutional and violative of the right to equality.

The Court made the observation while hearing petitions challenging the mandated 75 per cent domicile quota for B.Ed colleges in Madhya Pradesh, a figure it noted was 'too high' and did not serve any purpose.

The top court thus requested the State government to examine relevant data to come to 'a realistic finding' as to the extent of such a quota, within two months.

4. Irretrievably broken down marriage can be dissolved on ground of cruelty: Supreme Court

Case Title: Shri Rakesh Raman v. Smt Kavita

A Division Bench of Justices Sudhanshu Dhulia and JB Pardiwala held that an irretrievably broken down marriage spells cruelty in itself, and can be a ground for dissolution of marriage under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The Court was of the view that even though irretrievable breakdown of marriage may not be a ground for dissolution of marriage under the Act, the same can be read as 'cruelty', in terms of a ground for divorce.

"A marriage which has broken down irretrievably, in our opinion spells cruelty to both the parties, as in such a relationship each party is treating the other with cruelty. It is therefore a ground for dissolution of marriage under Section 13 (1) (ia) of the Act," the judgment stated.

5. Chargesheet should not be filed before completing probe to scuttle scope for default bail: Supreme Court

Case Title: Ritu Chhabaria v. Union of India

A Division Bench of Justices Krishna Murari and CT Ravikumar extolled the importance of the right to default bail under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), saying the same cannot be scuttled by filing chargesheets before the probe is complete.

The Court stressed that the right of default bail was not merely a statutory right but a fundamental one that flows from Article 21 of the Constitution.

It held the following:

- Without completing the investigation in a case, a chargesheet or prosecution complaint cannot be filed by an investigating agency only to deprive an arrested accused of his right to default bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.

- Such a chargesheet, if filed by an investigating authority without first completing the investigation, would not extinguish the right to default bail under Section 167(2) CrPC.

- The trial court, in such cases, cannot continue to remand an arrested person beyond the maximum stipulated time without offering the arrested person default bail.

6. Ayurveda doctors don't do complex surgeries; not entitled to equal pay as MBBS doctors: Supreme Court

Case Title: State of Gujarat and Others v. Dr PA Bhatt and Others

A Division Bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mithal set aside a Gujarat High Court order that had held that Ayurveda practitioners are at par with MBBS doctors in terms of pay benefits.

The Court stated that it cannot be oblivious of the fact that both categories do not perform equal work to be entitled to equal pay.

"Allopathy doctors are required to perform emergency duties and to provide trauma care. By the very nature of the science that they practice and with the advancement of science and modern medical technology, the emergency duty that Allopathy doctors are capable of performing and the trauma care that they are capable of providing, cannot be performed by Ayurveda doctors. It is also not possible for Ayurveda doctors to assist surgeons performing complicated surgeries, while MBBS doctors can assist," the order said.

The Bench clarified that while alternative systems of medicine may have their 'pride of place in history', in modern times, such practitioners cannot carry out or assist in surgeries.

7. Supreme Court asks High Courts to ensure all criminal trial, civil suit records are digitised by district courts

Case Title: Jitendra Kumar Rode v. Union of India

A Division Bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Sanjay Karol issued directions to all High Courts towards ensuring digitisation of lower court records.

The Court stressed that proper and regular digitisation of records is necessary for a smooth judicial process.

It issued the following directions in this regard:

- The Registrar General of the High Courts shall ensure that in all cases of criminal trial, as well as civil suits, the digitization of records must be duly undertaken with promptitude at all District Courts, preferably within the time prescribed for filing an appeal within the laws of procedure.

- The concerned District Judge, once the system of digitization along with the system of authentication of the digitized records is in place in their judgeship, to ensure that the records so digitized are verified as expeditiously as possible.

- A continually updated record of register of records digitized shall be maintained with periodic reports being sent to the concerned High Courts for suitable directions.

8. Unnecessary litigation by DISCOMs resulting in huge cost of electricity for consumers: Supreme Court

Case Title: GMR Warora Energy Limited v. Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and Others

A Division Bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath took exception to power distribution companies (DISCOMs) and power generating companies pursuing unnecessary and unwarranted litigation under the Electricity Act, 2003 against orders passed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commissions (CERC) and the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL).

The Court noted that the even reasoned orders passed by the CERC and APTEL were being challenged by DISCOMs.

"Unwarranted litigation, which wastes the time of the Court as well as adds to the ultimate cost of electricity consumed by the end consumer, ought to be avoided. Ultimately, the huge cost of litigation on the part of DISCOMS as well as the Generators adds to the cost of electricity that is supplied to the end consumers," the Court observed.

It, therefore, urged the Central Government's Ministry of Power (MOP), to consider evolving a mechanism so as to ensure that unnecessary and unwarranted litigation under the Electricity Act 2003, on the part of DISCOMs as well as the other power generators, is curbed.

9. Supreme Court upholds conviction of accused whose confessional statement taken in Malayalam, translated to Tamil and typed out in Kannada

Case Title: Siju Kurian v State of Karnataka

A Division Bench of Justices Surya Kant and Aravind Kumar upheld the conviction of a murder accused whose confessional statement was taken in Malayalam, translated to Tamil and then typed out by the police in Kannada.

The Court opined that the ultimate test would be whether the statement was noted down as told by the accused.

"Merely because the translation was made from Malayalam to Tamil and written down in Kannada would not suggest that such statement be held to be either not being voluntary or the said statement having been recorded improperly," the top court held.

10. High Court has no power under Article 226 to alter or amend registered lease deed: Supreme Court

Case Title: Gwalior Development Authority and Another v. Bhanu Pratap Singh

A Division Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Bela M Trivedi observed that the High Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution, cannot alter or amend the lease deed compulsorily registered under Section 17 of the Registration Act 1908.

The Court was of the view that when the lease deed has already been executed without demur and the transaction also stood concluded, it shall not be open for the High Court to alter or amend the same.

11. It takes time to settle down in marriage: Supreme Court refuses to use Article 142 powers to dissolve 40-day union

Case Title: Delma Lubna Coelho v. Edmond Clint Fernandes

A Division Bench of Justices Rajesh Bindal and Aravind Kumar refused to use its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to quash a marriage where the parties had only resided together for 40 days before separating.

The Court hoped that good sense prevails over the parties.

"We do not find this to be a fit case for exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India as good sense may prevail on the parties. They had lived together only for 40 days. It takes time to settle down in marriage," the Court noted.

12. "Not a person with criminal mindset": Supreme Court commutes death penalty of man convicted for murdering sister and her lover

Case Title: Digambar v. State of Maharashtra

A three-judge Bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol commuted the death sentence awarded to a man who was found guilty of murdering his married sister and her lover in 2017.

The Court said that the convict was not a person with criminal mindset or criminal records.

"Appellant-Digambar has been found to be well-behaved, helping and a person with leadership qualities. He is not a person with criminal mindset and criminal records," the Court observed.

The Court, therefore, upheld the conviction but set aside the death penalty and commuted it to life imprisonment. It was of the view that the present case will not fall under the 'rarest of rare case' category.

13. Not everything said by a judge while pronouncing judgment constitutes precedent: Supreme Court

Case Title: Career Institute Educational Society v. Om Shree Thakurji Educational Society

A Division Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh observed that not everything said by a judge when pronouncing a judgment constitutes a precedent. The Court observed that,

"It is not everything said by a judge when giving judgment that constitutes a precedent. The only thing in a judge's decision binding as a legal precedent is the principle upon which the case is decided, and for this reason, it is important to analyse a decision and isolate from it the obiter dicta."

The Bench noted that although there are many judgments on the distinction between ratio decidendi and obiter dicta, two verdicts hold the field, namely, State of Gujarat v Utility Users’ Welfare Association and Jayant Verma v Union of India.

14. In matters pertaining to citizens' liberty, courts should act promptly; avoid detailed deliberation of evidence in bail pleas: Supreme Court

Case Title: Sumit Subhaschandra Gangwal v. State of Maharashtra

A three-judge Bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol observed that inordinate delay in passing an order pertaining to liberty of a citizen is not in tune with the constitutional mandate.

15. Supreme Court quashes cheating and forgery case against former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal, son Sukhbir Singh Badal

Case Title: Sukhbir Singh Badal v. Balwant Khera and Others

A Division Bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar quashed a a cheating and forgery case against former Chief Minister of Punjab Parkash Singh Badal and his son and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) President Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The Court set aside an order of the Punjab & Haryana High Court that had rejected the plea by the Badals.

The apex court noted that the Badals had been summoned to face the trial but none of the ingredients of the offences were made out against them.

The Court determined that the Punjab & Haryana High Court ought to have quashed proceedings that would have been an abuse of the process of law.

Other important orders/observations

1. Judges should not give TV interviews on cases pending before them: Supreme Court on interview by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay to ABP

Case Title: Abhishek Banerjee v. Soumen Nandy and Others

A Division Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha has taken strong exception to sitting Calcutta High Court judge Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay giving an interview to news channel ABP Ananda regarding Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Abhishek Banerjee even as a case concerning Banerjee was being heard by the judge.

The Court said that judges have no business giving television interviews to news channels on pending matters and if they were to do so, the concerned judge could not hear the case discussed.

In observing so, the top court ordered that the proceedings pending before Justice Gangopadhyay of the Calcutta High Court against Banerjee in relation to the school-for-jobs case, be transferred to some other judge.

2. Supreme Court in late evening hearing stays Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay direction to apex court Secretary General

Case Title: In Re: Suo Motu proceedings in WPA No. 10634 of 2023 by the single judge of the Calcutta High Court

A Division Bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli in a hearing held late in the evening of April 28, stayed the order passed by Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay of Calcutta High Court directing the Supreme Court Secretary General to produce the report and official transcript of an interview Justice Gangopadhyay had given to a news channel.

The Court noted that the order by the High Court was improper and against judicial discipline.

3. Supreme Court sets aside Tripura High Court order to raise retirement age of Anganwadi workers to 65 years

Case Title: State of Tripura and Others v. Rina Puryakastha and Another

A Bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah set aside a Tripura High Court order that had directed the State to raise the minimum age of retirement of Anganwadi workers from 60 to 65 years.

The Court observed that under existing statutory norms, it is the State government that has the power to decide service conditions, including age of retirement of Anganwadi workers.

4. Hate Speech: Supreme Court directs that its order to police for suo motu action irrespective of religion is applicable to all States, UTs

Case Title: Shaheen Abdullah v. Union of India

A Division Bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna extended the scope of a previous order directing police to take suo motu action in cases of hate speech without looking at the religion of the offenders to all states and union territories across the country.

The Court expanded the scope of an interim order which was earlier only limited to the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Police.

5. Cannot issue directions to have 50% High Court judges from district judiciary: Supreme Court

Case Title: All India Judges Association and Others v. Union of India and Others

A three-Judge Bench of Justices of BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol said it cannot issue directions to have 50 percent of High Court judges appointed from the judicial services or the district judiciary.

The Court, however, directed High Courts to take immediate steps to recommend names for elevation of service quota judges prior to vacancies arising, so there is no delay in their elevation.

6. Governors must bear in mind mandate under Article 200 to clear bills passed by legislature as soon as possible: Supreme Court

Case Title: State of Telangana v. Secretary to her Excellency the Hon'ble Governor for the State of Telangana and Another

A Division Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha took note of Governors of states delaying their assent to bills passed by state legislatures and urged them to keep in mind the mandate under Article 200 of the Constitution which casts duty on them to clear bills "as soon as possible".

"The word "as soon as possible" [in Article 200(1)] has a significant Constitutional intent and must be borne in mind by constitutional functionaries," the Court said.

7. Country facing shortage of specialist doctors but seats in super-specialty medical courses remain vacant; solution needed: Supreme Court

Case Title: Kevin Joy v. Government of Kerala and Others

A Division Bench of Justices BR Gavai and Aravind Kumar bemoaned the failure to ensure that postgraduate medical seats in the country are filled up.

The Court in its order indicated that the same was not ideal for a country grappling with a shortage of super-specialty doctors.

"The present petition depicts a very sorry picture that 1,003 precious super specialty seats are going to waste, inasmuch as nobody could be admitted on the said seats. On the one hand, we find that there is always a shortage of Super Specialty Doctors and on the other hand these precious seats remain unfilled," the Court noted in its order dated April 13.

8. Do not encourage attempts to circumvent statutory remedies: Supreme Court to High Courts dealing with commercial matters

Case Title: South Indian Bank Ltd and Others v. Naveen Mathew Phillip and Another

A Division Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundresh made it clear that High Courts are to exercise their jurisdiction in commercial matters only in extraordinary circumstances.

The Court stated that litigants cannot be allowed to avoid the route of approaching tribunals in such matters.

"Approaching the High Court for the consideration of an offer by the borrower is also frowned upon by this Court...More circumspection is required in a financial transaction, particularly when one of the parties would not come within the purview of Article 12 of the Constitution of India. When a statute prescribes a particular mode, an attempt to circumvent shall not be encouraged by a writ court," the order stated.

9. Supreme Court sets aside Bombay HC order acquitting GN Saibaba in Maoist links case; new bench to decide appeals afresh

Case Title: State of Maharashtra v. Mahesh Kariman Tirki and Others

A Division Bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar set aside a Bombay High Court judgment that had acquitted former Delhi University teacher GN Saibaba in an alleged Maoist links case.

The Court remanded the matter to the High Court for fresh consideration, keeping all contentions open.

Pertinently, the top court suggested that the case be heard by another bench of the High Court, since the previous bench had already formed an opinion on the question of sanction being needed.

10. Supreme Court accepts apology of lawyer in "Advocate Put Mine" case; says it caused lot of embarrassment

Case Title: Ravindra Shah v. State of Maharashtra

A Division Bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Sanjay Karol noted that the inadvertent mention of a lawyer's name as "Put Mine" on official records was due to an unintentional mistake by the clerk of the lawyer whose name was to appear in the order.

The Court was informed by Senior Advocates Mukul Rohatgi, KV Viswanathan and V Mohana that the clerk had asked the lawyer on WhatsApp whose name he should add for the appearence slip.

After the lawyer replied "put mine", the clerk mistakenly added the same on the slip.

In this light, the Court concluded that there was no mala fide intention on the part of the lawyer, the clerk or the court officer.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - April 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - March 15 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - March 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - February 15 to 28, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - February 1 to 15, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - January 15 to 31, 2023 here.

Read the Supreme Court fortnightly - January 1 to 15, 2023 here.

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