Yearly Reports: The Supreme Court in 2019
Litigation Columns

Yearly Reports: The Supreme Court in 2019

Bar & Bench

As the new year begins, we look back at the prominent cases and events that assumed the limelight at the Supreme Court this past year.

The year 2019 was witness to a fair share of landmark judgments and controversies at the Supreme Court, starting with when the Supreme Court was called in to settle an internal battle of sorts in the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Supreme Court steps into CBI v CBI drama: Alok Kumar Verma v. Union of India & Anr.

January 8: The Supreme Court set aside the Central government’s order stripping Alok Verma of his powers as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The main issue before the Court was whether the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Centre had the competence to divest Verma of his powers as CBI Director.

Former CBI Director, Alok Verma
Former CBI Director, Alok Verma

A Bench of then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph cited Section 4B(2) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (DSPE Act), wherein Director shall not be transferred without the prior consent of the Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Justice of India.

Additionally, the Court also held that the word “transfer” cannot be given its normal meaning, and that it has to be understood as encompassing acts affecting the functioning of the CBI Director. CBI Director Alok Verma had approached the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the Central government to send him on leave and to appoint M Nageshwar Rao as interim Director.

Regulation of Dance Bars in Maharashtra upheld: Indian Hotel And Restaurant Association v. The State Of Maharashtra

January 17: The Supreme Court upheld Maharashtra’s law governing dance bars in the state, while striking down some provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016. This judgment was rendered by a Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan after the Court had reserved its verdict in the case on August 31, 2018.

The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association had approached the Supreme Court challenging the law brought in by Maharashtra with a view to regulating the operation of dance bars in the state.

The Court upheld the definition of “obscene dance” under Section 2(a) of the Act and further upheld condition 9 in Part B, which prescribes a time limit for bar dances i.e., from 6:30 pm – 11: 30 pm. The Court also backed up the punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for allowing obscene dance or exploiting any working woman for any immoral purpose. However, the Court quashed the complete prohibition on serving alcohol at dance bars as disproportionate.

Three death row convicts acquitted: Basvaraj @ Basya v. State of Karnataka

Three death row convicts were acquitted after an appeal before the Supreme Court
Three death row convicts were acquitted after an appeal before the Supreme Court

January 23: The Supreme Court acquitted three persons who had been awarded the death penalty in a murder case. The judgment was rendered by a Bench of then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna in an appeal against a judgment of Karnataka High Court. The death sentence awarded to a fourth accused was commuted to life imprisonment.

Constitutionality of IBC upheld in its entirety: Swiss Ribbons Private Limited. & Anr. v. Union of India and others

January 25: The Supreme Court upheld the validity of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code in its entirety. However, the Court read down Section 29A holding that the “related party” should be connected to the business organisation/defaulting company for the bar on submission of resolution plan to apply.

The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha. The Court held that the distinction between operational creditors and financial creditors was based on intelligible differentia.Regarding operational creditors not having a vote in the Committee of Creditors, the Court held that financial creditors like banks and financial institutions, being in the business of money lending, are best equipped to assess the viability and feasibility of the business of the corporate debtor. The Court also upheld the validity of Sections 12A (prescribing threshold for CoC approval for withdrawal of resolution application) and 29A (on bar of 'related persons' in participating in resolution bids.

In the Swiss Ribbons judgment passed in January this year, the Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha upheld the IBC in its entirety.
In the Swiss Ribbons judgment passed in January this year, the Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha upheld the IBC in its entirety.

Regarding operational creditors not having a vote in the Committee of Creditors, the Court held that financial creditors like banks and financial institutions, being in the business of money lending, are best equipped to assess the viability and feasibility of the business of the corporate debtor. The Court also upheld the validity of Sections 12A (prescribing threshold for CoC approval for withdrawal of resolution application) and 29A (on bar of 'related persons' in participating in resolution bids.

Supreme Court allows Vedanta to challenge closure of its Sterlite Copper Plant before Madras High Court: Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board vs. Sterlite Industries

February 18: The Supreme Court set aside the National Green Tribunal’s order which had allowed the reopening of the Vedanta Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi. The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Navin Sinha. This Bench was hearing the challenge to the National Green Tribunal’s order of December 2018 that had given the green signal for the reopening of the plant.

The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had earlier allowed Vedanta’s appeal against the closure of its Sterlite Copper Plant at Thoothukudi. However, the Supreme Court stayed the order citing the NGT’s lack of jurisdiction to decide the matter. However, it allowed Vedanta to move its challenge before the Madras High Court.

Two Court masters sacked for tampering with Supreme Court’s order in Ericsson’s case against Reliance: Reliance Communication Limited & Ors v. State Bank Of India & Ors.

February 20: The Supreme Court held Reliance Communications and its Chairperson Anil Ambani guilty of contempt of court in the petition filed by Ericsson. The judgment was rendered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Vineet Saran.

The Bench held that three Reliance companies had no intention to pay the money it owed Ericsson, and that their conduct amounted to contempt. Reliance Communications, headed by Anil Ambani, was therefore directed to pay Ericsson Rs. 453 crore within four weeks.

Interestingly, earlier that month, the Supreme Court sacked two court masters – Manav Sharma and Tapan Kumar Chakaraborty – for tampering with orders of the Court in the matter. The order in question was of January 7, wherein the Court had issued notice to Anil Ambani and had sought his personal appearance.

However, when the order was uploaded on the website, it read that his personal appearance in the matter was dispensed with. The corrected order was issued after the discrepancy was brought to the Court's notice.

Supreme Court stays operation of its earlier order directing eviction of forest dwellers: Wildlife First v. MoEF

February 28: The Supreme Court stayed the implementation of its previous order dated February 13, in which it had directed the eviction of forest dwellers and tribals across the country.

In this case, a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Navin Sinha, and MR Shah directed the states to submit affidavits detailing the procedure adopted to assess the claims under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had passed an order directing twenty-one states to evict those Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDSTs) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFDs) whose claims under the Forest Rights Act were rejected. Subsequently, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs moved the Supreme Court and sought for a modification of this order, as well as a temporary stay on the implementation of the same. The matter is pending at the moment and the Court has sought details of the rejection of claims and procedure adopted thereafter under the Forest Rights Act.

Teachers entitled to gratuity, Supreme Court recalls its earlier ruling: Birla Institute of Technology vs. State of Jharkhand

March 7: The Supreme Court held that teachers are entitled to gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 (Act). A Bench of Justices Abhay Manohar Sapre and Indu Malhotra thereby recalled its previous judgment from January, which had laid down that teachers do not fall within the scope of the definition of ’employees’ under the Act.

In its judgment rendered on January 7, the Court had placed reliance on the case of Ahmadabad Pvt. Primary Teachers Association v. Administrative Officer and Others to hold that teachers do not fall within the scope of the definition of ‘employee’ under Section 2 (e) of the Act.

The operation of this judgment was, however, suo motu stayed by the Court just two days after the pronouncement of the judgment. The Court noted in that order that it was not apprised of the amendment brought to the Act by the Parliament in 2009.

When the matter was reheard, the Court was informed that the submissions regarding precluding teachers from the scope of the definition of ‘employee’ stemmed from the precedent in Ahmedabad Pvt Primary Teachers Association case. However, the said issue was no longer res integra after the statutory amendment. In light of this amendment, the Court noted that decision in Ahmedabad Pvt Primary Teachers Association loses its binding effect. Therefore, on March 7, it dismissed the appeal filed in the matter by Birla Institute of Technology.

Challenge to Triple Talaq Ordinance junked: Samantha Kerala Jamiathul Ulema & Anr v Union of India

March 25: The Supreme Court refused to entertain a petition challenging the Ordinance criminalising the practice of Triple Talaq. The Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta dismissed the petition filed by Samastha Kerala Jamaithul Ulema, stating that it is not inclined to entertain the plea since the challenge is against an ordinance. The Bench, however, clarified that it has not expressed any opinion regarding the merits of the case.

No relief for Saravana Bhavan owner in decades old murder case: Pattu Rajan v. State of Tamil Nadu

March 29: The Bench of Justices NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee upheld the conviction and life imprisonment awarded to the owner of Saravana Bhavan restaurant chain, P Rajagopal for the 2001 murder of one his employees in a bid to to marry his wife.

P Rajagopal (centre) was served a life imprisonment sentence for the 2001 murder of his staff
P Rajagopal (centre) was served a life imprisonment sentence for the 2001 murder of his staff Mahesh Shantaram for The New York Times

A plea moved by Rajagopal before the Madras High that he be shifted to a private hospital on health grounds was later allowed. However, shortly after, Rajagopal died at the age of 71 years

Employees entitled to pension in proportion to salary: Employees Provident Fund Organisation and Anr v. Sunil Kumar B

April 1: The Supreme Court held that employees are entitled to pension proportionate to salaries. A move to reinstate amendments that put a limit on the amount of pension payable to employees under the Employees' Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act (EPF Act), 1952 was cut short by the Supreme Court.

The Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna effectively held that employees are entitled to receive pension in proportion to the salary being drawn by them and their contributions to the Provident Fund. While holding the same, the Bench dismissed a challenge to a Kerala High Court ruling passed to this effect last year.

RBI Circular on loan repayment of stressed accounts struck down: Dharani Sugars and Chemicals Limited v. Union of India & Others

April 2: The Supreme Court struck down the Reserve Bank of India’s February 12 Circular containing the revised framework for resolution of stressed assets in totality. The Court found this Circular is ultra vires Section 35AA of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 (BR Act), which is one of the enabling provisions for issuance of the Circular.

Regarding the challenge against Sections 35AA and 35AB of the BR Act, the Court held that both the sections were found to be valid. The Court found that Section 35AA sets the boundaries within which the RBI is to act, for making directions in relation to insolvency proceedings.

Right to travel abroad is an important, basic right: Satish Chandra Varma v. Union of India

April 9: The Supreme Court held that the right to travel abroad is an important basic human right that also extends to private life. The Supreme Court Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and MR Shah held,

“The right to travel abroad is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right. ”

Supreme Court does not give final word on constitutionality of Electoral Bonds: Association for Democratic Reforms v. UOI

April 12: After it reserved its order in the challenge to electoral bonds, the Supreme Court directed all the political parties to disclose details of the donations received by them through electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India.

The Court stated that the petition gives rise to “weighty issues” which need an in depth hearing which cannot be concluded in the limited time that was available before the Court. Thus, an interim order was passed by the Court keeping in mind that the interim arrangement “does not tilt the balance in favour of either parties.”

Post-conviction mental illness is a mitigating factor in plea for commutation of death penalty: Accused X v. State of Maharashtra

April 12: The Supreme Court held that post-conviction mental illness will be a mitigating factor while considering a plea for commutation of death penalty. The judgment was rendered by a Bench of Justices NV Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, and Indira Banerjee in a review petition filed by a convict who had been sentenced to death for rape and murder of two underage girls.

The Court also laid down directions to be followed in future cases.

  • That the post conviction severe mental illness will be a mitigating factor that the appellate Court, in appropriate cases, needs to consider while sentencing an accused to death penalty.

  • The assessment of such disability should be conducted by a multidisciplinary team of qualified professionals (experienced medical practitioners, criminologists etc), including professional with expertise in accused’s particular mental illness.

  • The burden is on the accused to prove by a preponderance of clear evidence that he is suffering with severe mental illness. The accused has to demonstrate active, residual or prodromal symptoms, that the severe mental disability was manifesting.

  • The State may offer evidence to rebut such claim.

  • Court in appropriate cases could setup a panel to submit an expert report.

  • Test of severity’ envisaged predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that objectively the illness needs to be most serious that the accused cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment.

Trade Union can file as an operational creditor under IBC: JK Jute Mill Mazdoor Morcha v. Juggilal Kamlapat Jute Mills

April 30: The Supreme Court Bench of Justices RF Nariman and Vineet Saran holds that a trade union, for the purpose of triggering insolvency, can be an operational creditor. The judgment was passed while setting aside an NCLAT ruling which rejected a Section 9 application filed by a trade union.

Sexual harassment allegations made against CJI Ranjan Gogoi: In Re Matter Of Great Public Importance Touching Upon The Independence Of Judiciary

April-May 2019: In a unprecedented turn of events, the Chief Justice of India was accused of sexual harassment by a former Supreme Court staffer. News of the same broke on the morning of April 20, a Saturday. A few hours later, a Special Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna was constituted to take up the matter, although the Bench focused on whether the allegations were an attempt to endanger the independence of the judiciary.

Chief Justice of Indi Ranjan Gogoi
Chief Justice of Indi Ranjan Gogoi

In the ensuing days, two parallel set of proceedings followed. The case initiated by Supreme Court suo motu in the wake of the allegations of sexual harassment against CJO Ranjan Gogoi, was listed before a new Bench comprising of Justice Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta. This Bench eventually appointed a Committee headed by Justice AK Patnaik (retired) to enquire into allegations raised by Advocate Utsav Bains that the sexual harassment complaint levelled against CJI Gogoi was part of a larger conspiracy.

In the meanwhile, a panel of Justices SA Bobde, NV Ramana and Indira Banerjee was constituted to inquire into the sexual harassment allegations itself against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. After Justice Ramana recused from hearing the case, over concerns raised by the complainant over his close ties with CJI Gogoi, Justice Indu Malhotra was appointed a member of the panel.The complainant, however, withdrew from the three Judge in-house committee probing allegations, while raising her protest to the committee declining the record the proceedings and denying her lawyer to accompany her during the proceedings. The Panel eventually gave a clean chit to CJI Gogoi, finding that there was no substance to the allegations levelled against him.

Supreme Court upholds Karnataka law on reservations in promotions: BK Pavitra and Ors v. Union of India

May 10: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (to the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act 2018.

The Act passed by the Karnataka State Legislature adopted the principle that consequential seniority is not an additional benefit but a consequence of the promotion which is granted to members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Section 148 of Negotiable Instruments Act is retrospective: Surinder Singh Deswal @ Col. SS Deswal v. Virender Gandh

May 29: The The Supreme Court ruled that Section 148 of the Negotiable Instruments Act (NI Act), as amended with effect from September 1, 2018, shall have retrospective operation and will be applicable to complaints which are filed even after September 1, 2018.

A Bench of Justice MR Shah and AS Bopanna held that the “submission on behalf of the appellants that amendment in Section 148 of the NI Act shall not be made applicable retrospectively and more particularly with respect to cases/complaints filed prior to 1.9.2018 shall not be applicable has no substance and cannot be accepted”

The Supreme Court further ruled that Section 143A of the NI Act, which provides for payment of interim compensation to the complainant during the pendency of a case, does not have retrospective application. The judgment was pronounced by a Bench of Justices UU Lalit and Vineet Saran in an appeal against a decision of the Madras High Court.

After citing a number of judgments on the topic, the Court observed that Section 143A imposes a fresh liability on the appellant even before the pronouncement of his guilt or order of conviction. Thus, the Court held that Section 143A is prospective and cannot be applied to cases wherein the offence was committed before the provision was introduced in the statute book

Magistrate has power to direct accused to furnish voice samples for investigation: Ritesh Sinha v. State of Uttar Pradesh

August 2: The Supreme Court held that held that a Magistrate would have the power to direct an accused to furnish voice samples for investigation. This judgment was rendered by a Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.

The Court stated that what may appear to be legislative inaction to fill in the gaps in the statute could be on account of justified legislative concern and exercise of care and caution. However, when a yawning gap in the statute, in the considered view of the Court, calls for a temporary patchwork of filling up to make the statute effective and workable and to sub-serve societal interests a process of judicial interpretation would become inevitable.

The exercise of jurisdiction by Constitutional Courts must be guided by contemporaneous realities/existing realities on the ground. Judicial power should not be allowed to be entrapped within inflexible parameters or guided by rigid principle, the Bench held.

The Court, therefore, held that until explicit provisions are engrafted in the Code of Criminal Procedure by Parliament, a Judicial Magistrate must be conceded the power to order a person to give a sample of his voice for the purpose of investigation of a crime.

Adverse title gives right to sue for possession: Ravinder Kaur Grewal v. Manjit Kaur

August 7: A person who has “perfected title” over an immovable property through adverse possession can maintain a suit under Article 65 of the Limitation Act, 1963 for declaration of title and for the restoration of his possession in the event of dispossession, the Supreme Court held.

A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer, and MR Shah passed a judgment to this effect while considering a question pertaining to title and possession of a plaintiff over an immovable property by virtue of adverse possession.

The question under scrutiny was, “whether Article 65 of the (Limitation) Act only enables a person to set up a plea of adverse possession as a shield as a defendant and such a plea cannot be used as a sword by a plaintiff to protect the possession of immovable property or to recover it in case of dispossession. Whether he is remediless in such a case?”

Answering this in the negative, the Court held that Article 65 of the Limitation Act will be no bar for maintainability of a suit by the plaintiff against illegal dispossession and infringement of his right by the owner of the property whose title stands extinguished on account of plaintiff’s adverse possession.

In answering the issue, the Court also overruled the 2014 decision in the case of Gurudwara Sahab v. Gram Panchayat Village Sirthala.

Homebuyers are financial creditors under IBC: Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure Limited & Anr. v. Union of India

August 9: The Supreme Court upheld an amendment made to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) with respect to the classification of homebuyers as financial creditors.

Additionally, the Bench of Justices RF Nariman, Sanjiv Khanna and Surya Kant also directed the Centre to fill up the vacancies in the NCLT and the NCLAT, in light of the increasing number of pleas files by aggrieved homebuyers, and to apprise the Court of the steps taken to this end.

Decks cleared for prosecution of Ex-Maharashtra CM, Devendra Fadnavis under RP Act: Satish Uke v. Devendra Gangadharrao Fadnavis

October 1: In a setback to BJP leader and former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court gave a green signal for Devendra Fadnavis to be prosecuted under Section 125 of the Representation of People (RP) Act.

The three Judge Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose reversed the judgment of the Bombay High Court which had ruled in favour of Fadnavis and remanded the matter for fresh trial.

Former Maharashtra CM,Devendra Fadnavis
Former Maharashtra CM,Devendra Fadnavis

It was alleged by Satish Uke that Fadnavis, who had contested Assembly elections from South West Nagpur, had not complied with the provisions of Sections 33A(1) and (2) of the RP Act.

This provision required Fadnavis to divulge details regarding any pending criminal cases against him. There were two cases against Fadnavis which were not disclosed by him in his election affidavit despite the fact that the Courts of competent jurisdiction had taken cognizance of the same.

Charges, however, had not been framed in the cases.The Court, in this case, noted that even though charges have not been framed, the pending cases needed to be disclosed in the election affidavit, if cognizance of the same had been taken by the competent court.

Dilution of SC/ST Act reversed: Union of India v. the State of Maharashtra

October 1: The Supreme Court, in a review petition filed by the Centre, reversed its judgment delivered in March 2018 which had effectively diluted the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

The judgment was rendered by a three-Judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, and BR Gavai in a petition seeking review of the decision of a two-Judge Bench in the case of Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra. In the Subhash Kashinath Mahajan case, the Court had laid down certain directions relating to arrest of a public servant and preliminary enquiry.

While allowing the review petition against this judgment, the Apex Court set aside the directions and went on to observe that these directions were not called for and were not within the parameters of the Court’s powers under Article 142. The judgment in the review petition stated,

“We do not doubt that directions encroach upon the field reserved for the legislature and against the concept of protective discrimination in favour of downtrodden classes under Article 15(4) of the Constitution and also impermissible within the parameters laid down by this Court for exercise of powers under Article 142 of Constitution of India… …What legislature cannot do legitimately, cannot be done by the interpretative process by the courts.”

In a related case, the Supreme Court Bench of the same constitution, reserved its judgment in a batch of petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the Amendment brought to the SC/ST Act in August 2018. While reserving its judgment, the Court had observed that it would not dilute the provisions of the Act.

Magistrate can order further investigation in post-cognisance stage: Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya v. State of Gujarat

October 16: The Supreme Court clarified that a Magistrate has powers to order further investigation in a criminal case even after it has taken cognizance and issued summons in the matter based on the police chargesheet.

The ruling was passed by a three-judge Bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman, Surya Kant and V Ramasubramanian which was called to decide on the following legal question, i.e. Whether, after a charge-sheet is filed by the police, the Magistrate has the power to order further investigation, and if so, up to what stage of a criminal proceeding?

The Court ultimately opined,

There is no good reason given… as to why a Magistrate’s powers to order further investigation would suddenly cease upon process being issued, and an accused appearing before the Magistrate, while concomitantly, the power of the police to further investigate the offence continues right till the stage the trial commences.”

In effect, the Supreme Court held that a Magistrate can order further investigation into a cognizable offence, even in the post-cognisance stage, right up until the charges are framed in the case. The Bench also observed that such an interpretation is crucial in view of the mandate under Article 21 of the Constitution to ensure a fair trial.

Among the cases so overruled in the process was the Supreme Court’s 1976 two-judge Bench decision in Devarapalli Lakshminarayana Reddy & Ors. v. V Narayana Reddy & Ors.

P Chidambaram gets relief in CBI case over INX Media scam: P Chidambaram vs. Central Bureau of Investigation

October 22: The Supreme Court granted bail to former Union Minister P Chidambaram in the CBI case registered against him in the INX Media case. The Apex Court’s Bench of Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy set aside the decision of the Delhi High Court that had denied him bail.

P Chidambaram (R) being escorted by the police in the Rouse Avenue Court Complex, Delhi
P Chidambaram (R) being escorted by the police in the Rouse Avenue Court Complex, Delhi

Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on August 21 shortly after his anticipatory bail was rejected by the Delhi High Court and before the appeal against the same could be taken up by the Supreme Court.

After being remanded to police custody, the Senior Congress leader was subsequently sent to Tihar Jail under judicial custody.In the meantime, a bail plea was moved before the Special CBI Judge sitting at Delhi’s Rouse Avenue Court Complex. This plea was rejected, leading to an appeal before the Delhi High Court.

Judges reiterate primacy in deciding on questions of recusal: Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal and Ors etc

October 23: Justice Arun Mishra, who was heading the freshly constituted Constitution Bench to hear cases concerning interpretation of the Land Acquisition Act, refused to recuse himself from hearing the cases.

The order against Justice Mishra’s recusal was passed by a five-Judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah, and Ravindra Bhat.

The core issue in the batch of petitions relates to the interpretation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013).

The recusal of Justice Arun Mishra was sought by certain parties to the litigation, including a farmers’ association, on the grounds of “bias of predisposition” with respect to his judgment in the Indore Development Authority case.

Posterity will not forgive me down the line for setting a bad precedent
Posterity will not forgive me down the line for setting a bad precedent Justice Arun Mishra, while refusing to accede to the plea for his recusal

Justice Mishra was part of the three-Judge Bench that had already delivered one of the conflicting judgments on the issue under consideration by the Constitution Bench.

It was on account of contrarian opinions found in judgments by Benches of equal strength that the question relating to Section 24 was referred to a Constitution Bench.

DoT interpretation of AGR prevails: Union of India v. Association of United Telecom Service Providers of India etc

October 24: In a major setback to telecom service providers, the Supreme Court ruled that the interpretation of “Adjusted Gross Revenue” as given by the Department of Telecom (DoT) would prevail.

The Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer, and MR Shah held that most of the revenues “except one or two” as pointed out by DoT will fall within the net of AGR. The Court thus, allowed the appeals filed by the DoT and consequently dismissed the ones filed by telecom service providers against the TDSAT order.

The scope of AGR affects the Spectrum Usage Charges and License Fees which were yet to be paid by the operators to the government. As an outcome of this judgment, the telecom companies were required to pay, cumulatively, monies to the tune of Rs. 92,000 crore as license fees.

The Karnataka Political crisis

July-November 2019: The withdrawal of 17 rebel MLAs from the Congress and JD (S) parties in Karnataka let to a political crisis in the state. The Speaker’s delay in accepting their resignation let 10 rebel MLAts to approach the Supreme Court in July. The Speaker also later moved the Supreme Court, registering protest to the Court’s order to decide on the resignations.

Vidhan Soudha, Karnataka
Vidhan Soudha, Karnataka

In response to the Speaker’s concerns that he needed to time to take a considered decision, the Supreme Court Bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose later passed another order, in Pratip Gouda Patil v State of Karnataka directing the Speaker of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to decide on the resignations of the rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs within an “appropriate time frame”. The Speaker eventually disqualified the MLAs.

In Shrimanth Balasaheb Patil v Hon’ble Speaker, Karnataka Legislative Assembly, the Supreme Court eventually upheld the disqualification of the 17 MLAs.

However, the part of the order passed by the Speaker barring the former Congress and JD(S) MLAs from contesting elections for the duration of the Assembly was set aside.

Supreme Court gives its judgment in the Ayodhya dispute: M Siddiq (D) thr LR v. Mahant Suresh Das and Ors

November 9: In a landmark step, the Supreme Court this year delivered its judgment in the Ayodhya dispute, bringing the decades-long issue to a close.

The landmark judgment was delivered by a Bench headed by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, and S Abdul Nazeer.

The Ayodhya Bench
The Ayodhya Bench (L-R) Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice DY Chadrachud, CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice (now CJI) SA Bobde, Justice Abdul Nazeer

The Court decreed the disputed site in favour of the Hindu parties and held that the title in the site vested with Ram Lalla Virajman. It was further held that the Muslim parties did not have exclusive and uninterrupted possession of the site. Therefore, on the grounds of balance of probabilities, the Court ruled in favour of the Hindus and in accordance with the provisions of the Ayodhya Act, directed for a Trust to be set up for the facilitation of the construction of the Temple at the site where the Babri Mosque once stood prior to its demolition in December 1992.

Finding that the act of razing the Mosque to the ground was illegal and unconstitutional, the Court also directed the Central and State Governments to allot an alternate site measuring five acres to the Muslim parties for the construction of a Mosque.

This judgment drew criticism from various quarters for allegedly holding one faith to a higher importance as compared to another whilst ruling that the decision was not a ruling based on faith and belief.

The judgment also saw diversion from usual practice on various aspects such as no mention of the author of the unanimous verdict, no mention of the author of the corrigendum, special hearing held on Saturday for the delivery of the judgment, Chief Justice of India meeting with law enforcement agencies to inquire about the preparation of maintenance of law and order ahead of the delivery of the judgment, marathon hearing on all working days and extension of Court’s working hours by an hour to accommodate finishing of the arguments in the case, and a timeline set for the completion of the case.

The Ayodhya dispute which had polarised the country for years together and often found being used by political parties for electoral mileage while featuring in election manifestos was unique in more ways than one.

Chief Justice of India is also subject to RTI: Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal

November 13: In a significant step towards transparency, the Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India was covered under the scope of “public authority” and came under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

A Constitution Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices NV Ramana, DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta, and Sanjiv Khanna upheld the decision of the Delhi High Court that brought the Chief Justice of India under the RTI. The five-Judge Bench was considering the following two questions:

  • Whether the office of Chief Justice of India would come within the ambit of the RTI Act?

  • Whether the communications between Collegium and Govt and file noting of the Collegium would be covered under the RTI Act?

"The Supreme Court of India, which is a 'public authority' (under RTI Act), would necessarily include the office of the Chief Justice of India."
"The Supreme Court of India, which is a 'public authority' (under RTI Act), would necessarily include the office of the Chief Justice of India."

The case had its genesis in RTI applications filed by Agarwal. In one RTI request, Agarwal had sought information with respect to the appointment of Justices HL Dattu, AK Ganguly and RM Lodha. The appointments of these three judges were allegedly objected to by the Prime Minister’s Office, since they were appointed superseding three other Judges senior to them.

Supreme Court declines to give decisive final word on the Sabarimala controversy: Kantary Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Association Thr Its General Secretary and Ors.

November 14: Over a year after the Supreme Court had allowed the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple by 4:1 majority, a five-Judge Constitution Bench delivered its judgment in the batch of review petitions and fresh writ petitions against the decision of September 2018.

In an interesting development, the Bench of then CJI Ranjan Gogoi with Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra, kept the question in the review petitions pending and instead referred a larger issue pertaining to the Essential Religious Practices Test, interplay between Articles 25 and 26 on one hand, and Article 14 on the other, and the conflict between the judgments in the Shirur Mutt case and Durgah Committee case, to a seven-Judge Bench.

The Sabarimala controversy remains in limbo with the Supreme Court deciding to keep review petitions filed against its 2018 judgment pending
The Sabarimala controversy remains in limbo with the Supreme Court deciding to keep review petitions filed against its 2018 judgment pending

While, the judgment of September 2018 saw a dissenting view by Justice Malhotra, in the judgment making the reference, Justices Nariman and Chandrachud wrote the dissenting view.

Justice Khanwilkar, who had concurred with the majority opinion in 2018 for allowing the entry of women, this time concurred with the majority opinion that made the reference to a larger Bench

Rafale review petitions dismissed: Yashwant Sinha and Ors v. Central Bureau of Investigation through its Director

November 14: The Supreme Court Bench of then CJI Ranjan Gogoi with Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph dismissed the petitions seeking a review of the Court’s judgment of December 2018 in the case concerning probe in the Rafale deal. The Court had earlier ruled against the need for a probe in the inter-governmental deal for the purchase of 36 Rafale Jets.

Subsequently, however, after some additional material and documents were accessed unearthing some fresh information, a review of the Court’s earlier order was sought. The Court, however, dismissed the plea for review.

"...the review petitions are without any merit and are accordingly dismissed, once again, re-emphasising that our original decision was based within the contours of Article 32 of the Constitution of India."
"...the review petitions are without any merit and are accordingly dismissed, once again, re-emphasising that our original decision was based within the contours of Article 32 of the Constitution of India." Supreme Court

The case was also embroiled in political controversy with the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi being slapped with a contempt of court case for wrongly attributing the political slogan “Chowkidar Chor hai” to the Supreme Court. While dismissing the review petitions, the Court also closed the contempt case against Gandhi but censured him in the process. The Court said that Gandhi ought to be more careful in the future.

Trial court conviction of 12 restored in Haren Pandya murder case: Mohd Parvez Abdul Kayyum Sheikh vs. CBI

November 19: The Supreme Court restored the trial court conviction of the 12 accused charged with the murder of former Gujarat Minister Haren Pandya. The judgment was passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran. Haren Pandya, who was Home Minister of Gujarat, was found shot dead inside his car on March 26, 2003.

In June 2007, a Special Court convicted the twelve accused for the murder of Pandya. On appeal, the Gujarat High Court overturned the verdict and acquitted all twelve accused of the charges of murder of Haren Pandya. This High Court verdict was, in turn, set aside by the Supreme Court. Review pleas filed challenging this judgment were also subsequently dismissed by the Supreme Court.dead inside his car on March 26, 2003.

In June 2007, a Special Court convicted the twelve accused for the murder of Pandya. On appeal, the Gujarat High Court overturned the verdict and acquitted all twelve accused of the charges of murder of Haren Pandya. This High Court verdict was, in turn, set aside by the Supreme Court. Review pleas filed challenging this judgment were also subsequently dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Section 87 of the Arbitration Act struck down: Hindustan Construction Company Limited vs. Union of India

November 28: The Bench of Justices RF Nariman, Surya Kant and V Ramasubramanian struck down the deletion of Section 26 of the 2015 Arbitration Amendment Act, together with the insertion of Section 87 into the Arbitration Act, 1996 by the 2019 Amendment Act.

The Bench held the provision, which brought back the automatic stay provision, to be "manifestly arbitrary" and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Court further reiterated that an application under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act, 1996 is a summary proceeding not in the nature of a regular suit.

Pen drive, memory card contents are documentary evidence: P Gopalkrishnan @ Dileep v. State of Kerala

November 29: The Supreme Court held that the contents of a memory card or a pen-drive are documents and the same shall be furnished to an accused under the mandate of Section 207 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

This Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari laid down that all documents, including electronic records, that the prosecution intends to use against an accused must also be supplied to the accused. This judgment came in the case concerning Malayalam film actor Dileep, who is one of the accused in a sexual assault case.

NCLAT cannot interfere with decision of CoC which is based on commercial wisdom: Committee of Creditors of Essar Steel India Limited Through Authorised Signatory v. Satish Kumar Gupta & Ors

November 15: The Supreme Court set aside the order of the NCLAT in the Essar insolvency case and upheld the claims of the Committee of Creditors (CoC). In the process, the Bench of Justices RF Nariman, Surya Kant and V Ramasubramnian also held that the NCLAT could not have interfered with the decision of the CoC, which is based on its commercial wisdom. Other pertinent observations made by the Court include that the under the principle of parity, the secured and unsecured creditors cannot be treated to be equal.

Maharashtra Political crisis

November 23-26, 2019: The Supreme Court’s intervention also played a role in the formation of the state government in Maharashtra this year, after the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Indian National Congress approached registered protest to BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis being sworn in as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in the early hours of November 23. Along with Fadnavis, NCP’s Ajit Pawar was also sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister.

The alliance of the three parties approached the Apex Court challenging the decision of the Governor to invite the BJP to form a “minority government”. The petitioners alleged that the Governor of Maharashtra had acted in a “partisan manner” and “made a mockery of the high office of the Governor”, at the behest of a political party.

The three parties alleged that the Governor of Maharashtra had acted in a “partisan manner” and “made a mockery of the high office of the Governor”, at the behest of a political party.
The three parties alleged that the Governor of Maharashtra had acted in a “partisan manner” and “made a mockery of the high office of the Governor”, at the behest of a political party.

Hours after the Supreme Court ordered that a floor test be conducted the next day, and that the same be televised, Fadnavis announced that he is stepping down from the post, three days after his was sworn in. Thereafter, the three-party alliance went on to form the government in Maharashtra.

P Chidambaram gets relief in ED case over INX Media scam: P Chidambaram vs. Directorate of Enforcement

December 4: The Supreme Court granted bail to former Union Minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money laundering case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The judgment was delivered by the Bench of Justices R Banumathi, AS Bopanna, and Hrishikesh Roy and came after P Chidambaram spent over 100 days in custody in relation to the INX Media case.

The Court, thus, allowed the appeal filed by Chidambaram and set aside the decision of the Delhi High Court that rejected bail to the former Finance Minister on grounds of the gravity of the offence he is accused of in the case.

State legislature cannot alter jurisdiction of Supreme Court: Rajendra Diwan vs. Pradeep Kumar Ranibala

December 10: A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck down Section 13(2) of the Chhattisgarh Rent Control Act, 2011 as being ultra vires the Constitution of India.

The Constitution Bench of headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah, and Ravindra Bhat held that the State Legislature does not hold the power to enact legislations that would alter the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Therefore, Section 13(2) of the Rent Control Act is ultra vires the Constitution.

Section 13(2) of the Act provided for a direct appeal before the Supreme Court against the orders of the Rent Control Tribunal.

The Supreme Court found that in providing for this direct appeal, the State Legislature had transgressed its legislative power. The Chhattisgarh State Assembly lacked the jurisdiction or the competence to enact any law that affects the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Bench opined.

Ayodhya review petitions dismissed in chamber: M Siddiq (D) thr LR vs. Mahant Suresh Das and Ors (Review)

December 12: A five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed as many as 18 review petitions filed against the judgment of the Court in the Ayodhya dispute. The review petitions were taken up for hearing in-chambers and dismissed as such. The batch of review petitions consisted of petitions filed not only by the parties to the original suit but also by third parties.

The judgment of November was delivered by a Constitution Bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. Justice Sanjiv Khanna was added to as the fifth Judge to the Bench for hearing the review petitions given that CJI Gogoi had superannuated shortly after delivering the Ayodhya judgment.

The Bench that dismissed the review petitions was headed by CJI SA Bobde and comprised Justices DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer, and Sanjiv Khanna. While dismissing the review petitions, the Court said,

We have carefully gone through the Review Petitions and the connected papers filed therewith. We do not find any ground, whatsoever, to entertain the same. The Review Petitions are, accordingly, dismissed.”

Supreme Court passes orders concerning NRC in Assam and Tripura: Assam Public Works vs. Union of India, Tripura People’s Front v UOI

2019 also saw the Supreme Court pass significant orders as far as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was concerned.

The Draft NRC for Assam came under the Court’s scanner last year following protest over non-inclusion of names. The NRC Draft submitted before the Court in July 2018 had a total of 2,89,83,677 persons included, leaving a total of 40,70,707 as ineligible for inclusion. Out of the 40,70,707 names, 37,59,630 names were rejected and 2,48,077 names were kept on hold. The Bench eventually directed that no coercive action should be taken against anyone on the basis of the Draft NRC.

In an interesting development, the Bench also ordered that the NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela be transferred to Madhya Pradesh on October 18, although it did not disclose reasons for the same.

On December 12 the Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Nariman also extended the deadline for filing of claims and objections for inclusion in the NRC in Assam to December 31.

Further, the Court also directed that in order to facilitate filing of objections against wrongful inclusions, the copies of the draft NRC be made available for inspection of all concerned at convenient locations. This includes Office of the District Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner, Sub-Divisional Offices (Civil), Circle Offices and Gram Panchayats.

In the meanwhile, a petition was filed by the Tripura People’s Front and the erstwhile Maharajah of the State of Tripura on the pressing need to update the NRC in Tripura. Notice in the matter was issued in October last year. In December 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter on a non-miscellaneous day when it reopens after the winter break.

Review petition filed by convict in Nirbhaya rape case dismissed: Akshay Kumar Singh vs. Union of India

December 18: The three-Judge Bench of Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, and AS Bopanna dismissed the review petition field by one of the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape case of 2012. Singh had sought a review of the Court’s decision against the capital punishment awarded to him. He invoked grounds of human rights among others. The Apex Court found no grounds in his petition and also rejected Singh’s attempt to re-agitate the facts of the case. The Court, therefore, dismissed the review petition.

The review petition was earlier listed before the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde. However, the CJI had recused himself from hearing the matter.

When the review petition was taken up for hearing, in open Court, the three Judge Bench allotted a time period of thirty minutes to the Review Petitioner for making the arguments. And after hearing all the parties, the Court reserved its judgment which was delivered later on the same day.

While dismissing the review petition, the Bench said, “We do not find any error on the face of the record” and took on record the submission made by the petitioner regarding time needed for exercising other legal remedies.

However, no order on the same was passed by the Apex Court, leaving the doors open for the warrants of execution to be issued by the concerned authorities.

Abrogation of Article 370 and the communications lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir, all eyes on the Supreme Court

The Centre’s move to repeal Article 370 of the Constitution which had until then conferred special autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir in certain respects was promptly challenged before the Supreme Court by a number of petitioners. The challenge was mounted on various grounds, including the manner in which it was executed by the Government.

On August 28 the Supreme Court issued notice in the matter and intimated that a Constitution Bench of five judges would hear the main challenge to the abrogation of Article 370. After three days of hearing, on December 11, the Bench of Justices NV Ramana, SK Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant deferred the hearing in the matter until January 2020. On a related note, on December 5, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a plea seeking the live streaming of proceedings in these petitions.

In the meanwhile, on November 27, a three-judge Bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai reserved its orders on another batch of petitions challenging the restrictions imposed on the press and communications in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370

Supreme Court issues notice in Petitions challenging Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019

December 18: The Supreme Court issued notice in all 60 petitions filed challenging various aspects of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

However, the Bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Suryakant declined to grant a stay on the operation of the Act after it was apprised that the rule and guidelines under the Act have not been notified as of yet. The matter has been scheduled to be taken up on January 22, 2019.

A day earlier police violence against students who had conducted demonstrations against the Act had briefly come up before the same Bench. Following such violent incidents in the campuses of Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, various petitioners had moved the Supreme Court calling for a court monitored enquiry into the same.

However, the Bench declined to take up the matter, opining that it would be more appropriate that the jurisdictional High Courts look into these incidents instead.

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