Supreme Court Review: Crucial judgments of 2020

A review of the important judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court in 2020.
Supreme Court Review: Crucial judgments of 2020
Crucial Supreme Court Judgments in 2020supreme court judgements of 2020

The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most difficult years the Supreme Court of India has witnessed. With the justice delivery system initially being brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court admirably adapted by using technology, something it has been loath to do in the past.

Even though only matters of pressing importance were taken up for hearing for the better part of 2020, the Supreme Court passed a number of important judgments in a wide array of topics of law.

Here is a topic-wise compilation of some of the most relevant verdicts passed by the apex court in 2020.

Constitution Bench judgments

1. Protection under Anticipatory Bail should not be fixed for limited period

Case: Sushila Aggarwal v. State of NCT of Delhi [2020 5 SCC 1]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat JJ.

The Court held that protection granted to a person under Section 438 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) should not be invariably limited to a fixed period and should be in favour of the accused without any restriction on time. Normal conditions under Section 437 (3) read with Section 438 (2) should be imposed. Further, the Court held that the life or duration of an anticipatory bail order does not end normally at the time and stage when the accused is summoned by the court, or when charges are framed, but can continue till the end of the trial, except in special or peculiar conditions. The Court reaffirmed the principles of Shri Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia & Ors. v. State of Punjab (1980) 2 SCC 565.

2. Supreme Court can refer questions of law to larger Bench when exercising review jurisdiction

Case: Kantaru Rajeevaru v. Indian Young Lawyers Association Thr. Its General Secretary Ms. Bhakti Pasija & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 692]

Coram: SA Bobde CJ, R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, Mohan M Shantanagoudar, S Abdul Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant JJ.

The nine-judge Bench hearing the Sabarimala reference held that the Supreme Court can refer questions of law to a larger bench while exercising its review jurisdiction. The Court also framed seven questions which are related to Article 25 and 26 which will now be heard and decided by the nine-judge Bench.

3. Article 370 reference to larger Bench denied

Case: Dr. Shah Faesal & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [2020 4 SCC 1]

Coram: NV Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant JJ.

The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that there is no need to refer to a larger bench the petitions challenging the Presidential Orders issued on August 5-6, 2020 to repeal the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution.

4. Consumer Forum has no jurisdiction to extend time beyond 45 days for opposite party’s version

Case: New India Assurance v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 287]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat JJ.

The Court held that the District Forum has no power to extend the time for filing the response to the complaint beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as is envisaged under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act. It further held that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act would be from the date of receipt of the notice accompanied with the complaint by the opposite party, and not the mere receipt of the notice of the complaint.

5. Land acquisition under Land Acquisition Act of 1894 will not lapse if compensation is tendered in the State treasury

Case: Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 316]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah, S Ravindra Bhat, JJ.

In a significant judgment, the top court held that land acquisition under the earlier law of 1894 will be deemed to have lapsed only when government authorities fail to take possession and pay compensation in the treasury.

The Bench held that the compensation need not be deposited in the court. Once the compensation amount is tendered by the State in the government treasury, its obligation will stand complete with respect to the payment of compensation.

In such a scenario, landowners, who had refused to accept the compensation under the earlier Act, cannot now take advantage of the deemed lapse of acquisition under Section 24 of the new Act of 2013. Further, the Court overruled all the previous precedents in this regard.

6. Curative petition and stay on execution of 2012 Delhi gang rape convict dismissed

Case: Pawan Kumar Gupta v. State of NCT of Delhi [2020 SCC OnLine SC 264]

Coram: NV Ramana, Arun Mishra, Rohinton Fali Nariman, R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, and AS Bopanna JJ

The Court dismissed the curative petition of a death row convict in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case and orally rejected the application for stay on execution. Later, on March 20 in a midnight hearing, the Court dismissed the final plea against rejection of mercy petition of the convicts by the President of India. Afterwards, at 5:30 am on the morning of March 20, the four convicts were hanged to death at Tihar Jail.

7. SARFAESI Act will apply to co-operative Banks as it does to commercial banks

Case: Pandurang Ganpati v. Vishwasrao Patil Murgud Sahakari Bank Ltd [2020 SCC OnLine SC 431]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose JJ.

The Constitution Bench held that the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security (SARFAESI) Act, 2002 is applicable to cooperative banks which are 'banks' under the Act.

8. Government order providing 100% reservation for tribal teachers in Scheduled Areas unconstitutional

Case: Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao & Ors. v.State of A.P. & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 383]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose JJ.

The Court held that the Government Order dated January 10, 2000 issued by the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh providing 100% reservation to Scheduled Tribe candidates in posts of teachers in schools located in scheduled areas is unconstitutional. Further, the Court also concluded that that there was no rhyme or reason for the State government to resort to 100% reservation.

9. Sub-classification of Scheduled Castes: 5-judge Bench refers EV Chinnaiah to larger bench

Case: The State of Punjab & Ors. v. Davinder Singh & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 677]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose, JJ.

The Supreme Court will re-examine the correctness of its 2005 decision of EV Chinnaiah v. State of AP [(2005) 1 SCC 394] which had held that the Scheduled Castes form a homogenous class and there cannot be any sub-division.

A five-judge Bench of the Court referred the matter to a larger bench which will now examine the issue. The Court observed,

“Reservation was not contemplated for all the time by the framers of the Constitution. On the one hand, there is no exclusion of those who have come up, on the other hand, if sub-classification is denied, it would defeat right to equality by treating unequal as equal.”

10. Accused under NDPS Act not entitled to acquittal merely because informant was investigation officer

Case: Mukesh Singh v. State (Narcotic Branch of Delhi) [2020 SCC OnLine SC 700]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat, JJ.

The Constitution Bench held that the accused under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) is not entitled to an acquittal as a blanket rule merely because the complainant is the investigating officer. The Court said,

“...merely because the informant is the investigator, by that itself the investigation would not suffer the vice of unfairness or bias and therefore on the sole ground that informant is the investigator, the accused is not entitled to acquittal. The matter has to be decided on a case to case basis.”

11. States, not MCI, have power to make reservation for in-service PG candidates in NEET courses

Case: Tamil Nadu Medical Officers Association & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. 2020 SCC OnLine SC 699

Coram: Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose, JJ.

The Constitution Bench held that the Medical Council of India (MCI) has no power to make any reservation for in-service candidates in postgraduate medical courses in states and that only states are allowed to grant the benefit of reservation of seats to in-service doctors in the NEET PG courses.

Constitutional Law

1. Kashmir Lockdown: Suspension on internet should not be for indefinite period and must follow Proportionality Test.

Case: Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India [2020 3 SCC 637]

Coram: NV Ramana, Surya Kant, and BR Gavai JJ.

The Court held that freedom of speech and expression and freedom to carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys Constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(g). Suspension of the internet should only be for a reasonable duration and periodic review should be done. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC cannot be imposed to suppress legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights.

2. RBI ban on financial services to Cryptocurrency dealers set aside on grounds of proportionality

Case: Internet and Mobile Association of India v. Reserve Bank of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 275]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Aniruddha Bose and V Ramasubramanian JJ.

The Court recognized that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has the power to regulate the monetary and credit system, which also extends to the regulation of virtual or cryptocurrencies. The Court, however, held that the RBI circular of April 2018, which completely banned regulated financial institutions from providing services to crypto businesses, is a disproportionate measure and not a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).

3. Examining adequacy of representation inherent for reservation in promotional posts

Case: Pravakar Mallick & Anr. v. State of Orissa [2020 SCC OnLine SC 375]

Coram: Mohan M Shantanagoudar and R Subhash Reddy JJ.

The Court followed the law laid down in M Nagaraj v. Union of India and reiterated that the State is not bound to make reservations for SCs/STs in matters of promotion. However, if they wish to do so, they have to collect quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment, keeping in mind maintenance of efficiency, as indicated by Article 335 of the Constitution of India.

4. Rights defined under Article 30 are not absolute, could be exercised as per regulation of the State

Case: Christian Medical College Vellore Association v. Union of India & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 423]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and MR Shah JJ.

The Court re-stated principles governing minority educational institutions under Article 30 of the Constitution, noting that the right conferred on religious and linguistic minorities to administer educational institutions of their choice is not an "absolute right"and is not free of "regulation" from the State. It was further stated that Article 30 doesn't prevent the State from imposing reasonable regulations to make administration of minority institutions transparent.

The Court, therefore, ruled that there is no fundamental right violation in making NEET applicable to private minority unaided professional institutes for admission into MBBS, MD, BDS and MDS courses.

5. Supreme Court constitutes Special Committee to review 4G connectivity in Jammu & Kashmir

Case: Foundation for Media Professionals v. UT of J&K [2020 SCC OnLine SC 453]

Coram: NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai JJ.

The Court directed the constitution of a Special Committee comprising Secretaries of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir to examine contentions raised in pleas seeking restoration of 4G internet in the region.

6. Shaheen Bagh Protests: Public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely for expressing dissent

Case: Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police, [2020 SCC OnLine SC 808]

Coram: SK Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, JJ

The Court ruled that democracy and dissent go hand in hand, but demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. The present case involved a blockade of a public road which caused grave inconvenience to commuters.

"We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest", the Court held.

While acknowledging that India as we know it today is a result of the protests during the freedom struggle, the Court stated that the mode and manner of dissent against the colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy.

7. Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of levy of GST on lottery, betting

Case: Skill Lotto Solutions v. Union of India 2020 SCC OnLine SC 990

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ

The Court upheld the imposition of Goods and Service Tax (GST) on sale of lotteries, holding that the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017 and the notifications issued under the same bringing lottery and gambling under GST net are valid.

The Court opined that the definition of "goods" under Article 366(12) of the Constitution is inclusive and there is no intention to give any restrictive meaning to “goods”.

Criminal Law

1. Uncorroborated testimony of accomplice cannot be the basis of conviction

Case: Somasundaram @S omu v. The State Rep. by the Deputy Commissioner of Police [2020 SCC OnLine SC 480]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, KM Joseph and V Ramasubramanian JJ.

The Court held that for an accomplice to be believed, the material particulars of his testimony must be corroborated. It eventually upheld the convictions for the abduction and murder of Tamil Nadu politician and ex-MLA, MK Balan in 2001.

2. Court directs CBI probe in Sushant Singh Rajput death case

Case: Rhea Chakraborty v. State of Bihar & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 654]

Coram: Hrishikesh Roy, J

While invoking the plenary jurisdiction under Article 142, the Supreme Court upheld the FIR registered by the Bihar Police and asked Maharashtra Police to hand over the evidence and assist the CBI in the case relating to death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

3. Criminal prosecution on identical allegations will be discontinued if exoneration in departmental proceedings is on merits

Case: Ashoo Surendranath Tewari v. Deputy Superintendent of Police, EOW, CBI & Anr [2020 SCC OnLine SC 739]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ.

The Supreme Court reiterated that in case of exoneration in departmental proceedings on merits and where the allegation is found to be not sustainable at all and the person was held innocent, criminal prosecution on the same set of facts and circumstances cannot be allowed to continue.

4. Hindu unmarried daughter entitled to claim maintenance from her father under Section 125 CrPC

Case: Abhilasha v. Parkash [2020 SCC OnLine SC 736]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ.

The Supreme Court held that an unmarried Hindu daughter can claim maintenance from her father till she is married, relying on Section 20(3) of the Hindu Adoptions & Maintenance Act, 1956, provided she pleads and proves that she is unable to maintain herself, for enforcement of which right her application/suit has to be under Section 20 of Act.

5. Extension of limitation due to lockdown not applicable to the period of filing charge sheet under Section 167(2) CrPC

Case: S Kasi v. State through Inspector of Police [2020 SCC OnLine SC 529]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, MR Shah and V Ramasubramanian JJ.

The Court held that its suo motu order extending limitation and the lockdown restrictions of the government will not affect the right of an accused to seek default bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC. While granting default bail to the accused, the Supreme Court set aside the view of the Single Judge of the High Court that the lockdown restrictions should not give a right to an accused to pray for grant of default bail even though charge sheet has not been filed within the time prescribed under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.

6. Active involvement in the commission of offence not a pre- condition for common intention

Case: Subed Ali v. State of Assam [2020 SCC OnLine SC 794]

Coram: Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari, JJ.

The Supreme Court held that it is not necessary that before a person is convicted on the ground of common intention, he must be actively involved in the physical activity of assault. If the nature of evidence displays a pre-arranged plan and acting in concert pursuant to the plan, common intention can be inferred.

7. [Hathras Rape Case] Supreme Court asks Allahabad High Court to monitor CBI probe

Case: Satyama Dubey v. Union of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 874]

Coram: SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, JJ.

In the case related to the brutal gang-rape and assault of a 19-year-old Dalit resident of Hathras village in Uttar Pradesh, the top court directed the Allahabad High Court to monitor the probe.

The apex court, “in order to allay all apprehensions and only as a confidence building measure”, also directed that the security to the victim’s family and the witnesses in the Hathras Gang Rape case shall be provided by the CRPF.

8. Officers authorized to investigate NDPS cases are "Police Officers” and confessional statements made to them are not admissible

Case: Tofan Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu [2020 SCC OnLine SC 882]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ

The Court, by a 2:1 majority, ruled that the officers who are vested with powers under Section 53 of the NDPS Act are “police officers” within the meaning of Section 25 of the Evidence Act, 1872. As a result, any confessional statement made to them would be barred under the provisions of Section 25 of the Evidence Act, and cannot be taken into account in order to convict an accused under the NDPS Act. The Court further held that a statement recorded under Section 67 of the NDPS Act cannot be used as a confessional statement in the trial of an offence under the Act.

Justice Indira Banerjee dissented from the majority opinion.

9. Stay by ‘any court’ in criminal/civil proceedings automatically expires within a period of 6 months unless extended for ‘good reasons’

Case: Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation, [Miscellaneous application no. 1577 OF 2020]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Navin Sinha and KM Joseph, JJ.

The Court clarified that whatever stay has been granted by any court, including the High Court, automatically expires within a period of six months, and unless extension is granted for good reason, within the next six months, the trial court is, on the expiry of the first period of six months, to set a date for the trial and go ahead with the same.

10. Supreme Court orders release of Arnab Goswami

Case: Arnab Manoranjan Goswami v. State of Maharashtra [2020 SCC OnLine SC 964]

Coram: DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, JJ.

After Feroz Mohammad Shaikh, Arnab Goswami and Neetish Sarda were granted interim bail on November 11, 2020 in relation to the alleged suicide of Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik, the Supreme Court on November 27, gave a detailed judgment spelling out the reasons for the November 11 order.

In its judgment, the top court said that the Bombay High Court, in its verdict, abdicated its constitutional duty as a protector of liberty by refusing to grant relief to Goswami.

It also observed that prima facie, it could not be held that Goswami had abetted the suicide of Anvay Naik.

"The doors of this Court cannot be closed to a citizen who is able to establish prima facie that the instrumentality of the State is being weaponized for using the force of criminal law", the Court said.

11. Mere lack of State government’s prior consent does not vitiate CBI investigation in absence of prejudice to accused

Case: Fertico Marketing and Investment Pvt. Ltd. v. Central Bureau of Investigation [2020 SCC OnLine SC 938]

Coram: AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai, JJ.

The Supreme Court stated that not obtaining prior consent of the State government under Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (DPSE Act) would not vitiate the investigation unless the illegality in the investigation can be shown to have brought about miscarriage of justice or caused prejudice to the accused.

12. States/UTs to install CCTV cameras in each and every police station

Case: Paramvir Singh Saini v. Baljit Singh [2020 SCC OnLine SC 983]

Coram: RF Nariman, KM Joseph and Aniruddha Bose, JJ,

The Court directed all the States and UTs to install CCTV cameras in all police stations and file compliance affidavits within six weeks.

The top court also directed the Central government to install CCTV cameras at the offices of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) and any other central agency office where interrogation of people is carried out.

The apex court in its judgment also mandated that CCTV systems so installed "must be equipped with night vision and must necessarily consist of audio as well as video footage."

13. Merely referring to feelings of one community or group without any reference to any other community or group is not Hate Speech

Case: Amish Devgan v. Union of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 994]

Coram: AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ

The Division Bench refused to quash the FIRs registered against News18 anchor Amish Devgan for using the term “Lootera Chisti” in one of his shows. The Court granted interim protection against arrest, subject to his joining and cooperating with the investigation. It further stated though a universal definition of ‘hate speech’ remains difficult, ‘incitement to violence’ was a key ingredient.

14. Offences prescribing maximum sentence of more than seven years but not providing minimum sentences are not 'Heinous Offences', but 'Serious Offences', under JJ Act

Case: Shilpa Mittal v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2020) 2 SCC 787

Coram: Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose JJ.

The Supreme Court held that only those offences which prescribe minimum sentence of 7 years or more can be regarded as heinous offences under the Juvenile Justice Act. Offences not providing minimum sentence of 7 years, cannot be treated as heinous offences. Offences prescribing maximum sentence of more than 7 years but not providing any minimum sentence or providing minimum sentence of less than 7 years’ imprisonment, are not covered by S. 2(33) of the Act, the Court ruled.

In exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the apex court stated that such offences shall be treated as “serious offences”.

Civil Law

1. Wife's right to reside in matrimonial home can’t be enforced against the development authority or builder

Case: Aishwarya Atul Pulsalkar v. Maharashtra Housing Development Authority & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 408]

Coram: Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose JJ.

It was stated that a wife's right to reside in her matrimonial home does not flow from the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Act 1976. Therefore, it can’t be enforced against the builder or development authority. In the instant case, the Court was deciding an appeal filed by a woman, seeking right to reside in the homes allotted to her husband under the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Act 1976.

2. Procedure of dissolution of partnership firm which consists of only two partners

Case: Guru Nanak Industries, Faridabad v. Amar Singh [2020 SCC OnLine SC 469]

Coram: NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari JJ.

The Court held that when there are only two partners and one has agreed to retire, then the retirement amounts to dissolution of the firm. The Court also discussed the distinction between 'retirement of a partner' and 'dissolution of a partnership'.

3. Non-payment of entire sale consideration cannot be a ground for cancellation of sale deed

Case: Dahiben v. Arvindbhai Kalyanji Bhansuli (Gajra) (D) Thr LRs [2020 SCC OnLine SC 562]

Coram: L Nageswara Rao and Indu Malhotra JJ.

The Court, while interpreting Section 54 of Transfer of Property Act, stated that actual payment of the whole of the price at the time of the execution of the sale deed is not a sine qua non for completion of the sale.

4. Court upholds Travancore Royal Family’s right to administration of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala

Case: Sri Marthanda Varma & Anr. v. State of Kerala & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 569]

Coram: UU Lalit and Indu Malhotra JJ.

The Court upheld the right of the Travancore Royal Family to management and control of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala. It held that the death of the Travancore ruler, who signed the covenant, does not affect the rights of the Shebaitship of family over the Temple and it will survive as per the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950.

5. RERA does not bar initiation of proceedings by allotters against builders under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Case: Imperia Structures v. Anil Patni [2020 SCC OnLine SC 894]

Coram: UU Lalit and Vineet Saran, JJ.

The Court held that the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA) does not bar the initiation of proceedings by allotters against the builders under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

“It is true that some special authorities are created under the RERA Act for the regulation and promotion of the real estate sector and the issues concerning a registered project are specifically entrusted to functionaries under the RERA Act. But for the present purposes, we must go by the purport of Section 18 of the RERA Act”, the Court held.

6. High Court not obliged to frame substantial question of law if no error is found in first appellate court’s findings

Case: Kirpa Ram v. Surendra Deo Gaur, [2020 SCC OnLine SC 935]

Coram: L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi, JJ.

The Supreme Court observed that a High Court is not required to frame a substantial question of law while dismissing a second appeal. The formulation of a substantial question of law or reformulation of the same arises only if there are some questions of law, and not in the absence of any substantial question of law.

7. Provision in SARFAESI prescribing time limit for District Magistrates to deliver possession of secured asset is not mandatory

Case: C Bright v. District Collector [2020 SCC OnLine SC 909]

Coram: L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi, JJ.

The Supreme Court upheld Kerala High Court’s decision holding that Section 14 of the SARFAESI Act, which mandates the District Magistrate to deliver possession of a secured asset within 30 days, extendable to an aggregate of 60 days upon reasons recorded in writing, is a directory provision and not mandatory.

8. Show cause notice with intention to blacklist should clearly spell out such intention

Case: UMC Technologies Ltd. v. Food Corporation of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 934]

Coram: S Abdul Nazeer and BR Gavai, JJ.

The Supreme Court held that a show cause notice constituting the basis of a blacklisting order must spell out clearly the intention on the part of the issuer of the notice to blacklist the notice. Such a clear notice is essential for ensuring that the person, against whom the penalty of blacklisting is intended to be imposed, has an adequate, informed and meaningful opportunity to show cause against his possible blacklisting.

9. Landlord-tenant disputes under Transfer of Property Act are arbitrable

Case: Vidya Drolia and Ors.v.Durga Trading Corporation [2020 SCCOnLine SC 1018]

Coram: NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari JJ.

The Supreme Court held that landlord-tenant disputes governed by the Transfer of Property Act (TP Act) are arbitrable (except when they are covered by a specific forum created by rent control laws) as they are not actions in rem but pertain to subordinate rights in personam that arise from rights in rem. The Court, therefore, overruled its own 2017 judgment in Himangni Enterprises v. Kamaljeet Singh Ahluwalia [(2017) 10 SCC 706].

Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

1. Constitutional validity of SC/ST (Amendment) Act, 2018 upheld

Case: Prithvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India & Ors. [2020 4 SCC 727]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat JJ.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 that ruled out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs.

Parliament had brought in an amendment to the Scheduled Cates and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act [SC/ST Act] last year to nullify the effect of the Supreme Court’s judgment of March 2018 (Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs. State of Maharashtra). This judgment had effectively diluted provisions of the Act. The amendment was later assailed before the Supreme Court.

2. Insulting, abusing SC/ST person not an offence under SC/ST Act unless victim abused on account of caste

Case: Hitesh Verma v. State of Uttarakhand [2020 SCC OnLine SC 907]

Coram: L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi, JJ.

The Court held that insulting or intimidating a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) community will not by itself amount to an offence under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to SC/ST community.

Labour Law, Service Law, and Administrative Law

1. Under Article 233, judicial officers can’t be appointed as District Judges through direct quota reserved for advocates

Case: Dheeraj Mor v. Hon’ble High Court of Delhi [2020 SCC OnLine 213]

Coram: Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and S Ravindra Bhat JJ.

The Court ruled that judicial officers cannot be appointed as district judges through direct recruitment under the quota reserved for members of the Bar.

Under Article 233, a judicial officer, regardless of her or his previous experience as an advocate with seven years' practice cannot apply, and compete for appointment to any vacancy in the post of District Judge. His or her chance to occupy that post would be through promotion, in accordance with Rules framed under Article 234 and proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution of India.

2. Navy to grant Permanent Commission for serving women SSC officers

Case: Union of India v. Lt. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 326]

Coram: DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi JJ.

The Court held that serving Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers in Indian Navy are entitled to Permanent Commission at par with their male counterparts. Earlier in February, the same bench in The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors. 2020 SCC OnLine SC 200, while dismissing the Centre's appeals against Delhi High Court verdict on appointment of women to command posts, directed that Permanent Commission should be granted to women in the Army regardless of their service, except in combat roles. The Court has also held that absolute exclusion of women from command assignments is unjustified and goes against Article 14.

3. Can’t allow judicial officers to club their services rendered as advocates to claim eligibility for elevation as High Court judge

Case: R Poornima v. Union of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 714]

Coram: SA Bobde CJ, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian JJ.

The apex court observed that serving judicial officers cannot invoke Explanation (a) of Article 217 of the Constitution of India to club with their judicial service, the experience that they had at the Bar before joining judicial service, to claim eligibility for elevation as High Court judges.

4. Compassionate appointment not a matter of right

Case: State of Madhya Pradesh v. Amit Shrivas [2020 SCC OnLine SC 789]

Coram: Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari JJ.

The Supreme Court held that a work-charged employee who has been paid off a work-charged/contingency fund would be a permanent employee but would not ipso facto enjoy the status of a regular employee. Therefore, the Court held that his son was not entitled to compassionate appointment.

5. Gujarat government notification exempting factories from paying overtime wages to workers during COVID-19 lockdown quashed

Case: Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha v. State of Gujarat [2020 SCC OnLine SC 798]

Coram: DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph, JJ.

The Court quashed a notification dated July 20, 2020 issued by the Labour and Employment Department of the State of Gujarat under Section 5 of the Factories Act exempting factories from paying overtime wages to workers and providing ideal working conditions to them amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Court ruled that COVID-19 was not a "public emergency" which could have warranted such exemptions under Section 5.

Election Laws

1. Speaker to decide disqualification within three months; Time for Parliament to rethink whether disqualification petitions ought to be entrusted to Speaker

Case: Keisham Meghachandra v. The Hon’ble Speaker Manipur Legislative Assembly & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 55]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Aniruddha Bose and V Ramasubramanian JJ.

The Supreme Court urged Parliament to have a rethink on whether a Speaker ought to decide on disqualification petitions filed under the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution of India. The top court, taking note of apprehensions of the Speaker acting in a partisan manner due to political loyalties, suggested that the Parliament should amend the Constitution to provide for an independent mechanism, such as a permanent tribunal headed by retired judges, to decide disputes under Tenth Schedule.

The Court also held that the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly should decide on a petition seeking disqualification of a member under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution within a period of three months, in the absence of exceptional reasons.

2. Mandatory for political parties to publish pending criminal cases of their candidates

Case: Rambabu Singh Thakur v. Sunil Arora & Ors. [2020 3 SCC 733]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat JJ.

The Court directed political parties to upload details of criminal backgrounds of candidates in Lok Sabha and state assembly polls on their official websites as well as in newspapers and on social media within 48 hours of selection of the candidate or within two weeks of nomination, whichever is earlier.

The details of criminal antecedents of candidates should include the nature of the crime, whether charges have been framed etc.

3. Plea against election of PM Narendra Modi from Varanasi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls dismissed

Case: Tej Bahadur v. Narendra Modi [2020 SCC OnLine SC 951]

Coram: SA Bobde, CJ and AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, JJ.

The Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by former BSF Jawan, Tej Bahadur Yadav, challenging the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Varanasi constituency in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The judgment was rendered in a Special Leave Petition challenging the Allahabad High Court's dismissal of Bahadur's election petition in December 2019 on the ground of lack of locus standi. The top court ruled that the petitioner does not have a cause of action in the present case.

Education

1. State Disaster Management Authorities cannot take decision to not hold final year exams

Case: Praneeth K & Ors. v. University Grants Commission [2020 SCC OnLine SC 688]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ.

The Court upheld the validity of the revised University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines dated July 6, 2020 and held that state governments will not be allowed to promote students without holding final year university examinations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though the State Disaster Management Authorities have the power to take measures for prevention and mitigation of a disaster, they cannot take the decision to not hold final year exams. The states may, however, approach UGC for postponement of exams, the Court said.

2. NLAT quashed, all NLUs should admit students through CLAT 2020

Case: Rakesh Kumar Agarwalla & Anr. v. National Law School of India University, Bengaluru & Anr. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 761]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ

The apex court quashed the National Law Aptitude Exam (NLAT) conducted by National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru on September 12, 2020 for admitting students to its law courses. The Court directed the admission of students in NLSIU has to be necessarily through Common Law Admission Test (CLAT).

3. Distinction between MBA and PG Degree/Diploma in Human Resource Management or Industrial Relations & Labour Legislation elucidated

Case: North Delhi Municipal Corporation v. Kavinder & Ors. MANU/SC/0594/2020

Coram: DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph JJ.

The Court observed that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is not equivalent to a postgraduate degree or Diploma in Social Work, Labour Welfare, Industrial Relations or Personnel Management.

Disaster Management and Relief

1. Supreme Court refuses to transfer funds from PM-CARES to NDRF

Case: Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India [2020 SCC OnLine SC 652]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ.

The Court, while refusing to direct transfer of PM-CARES funds to the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF), held that there is no statutory prohibition preventing the Union of India from utilizing the NDRF for providing assistance in the fight of COVID-19 in accordance with the guidelines issued for administration of NDRF. The Court further held that there is no statutory prohibition on making any contribution by any person or institution in the NDRF as per Section 46(1) (b) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Taxation

1. Bangalore Club not liable to pay wealth tax

Case: M/S Bangalore Club v. The Commissioner of Wealth Tax & Anr. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 721]

Coram: Rohinton Fali Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee JJ.

The Court held that Bangalore Club is not liable to pay wealth tax under the Wealth Tax Act, 1957, concluding that for Section 21AA of the Wealth Tax Act to be attracted, a group of people should have come together with a common purpose of doing business and making profits. This common purpose of doing business was absent from the object behind the creation of the Bangalore Club, the Court noted.

Family Law

1. Sharehold household under Domestic Violence Act does not only mean a household of the joint family of which husband is a member

Case: Satish Chander Ahuja v. Sneha Ahuja [2020 SCC OnLine SC 841]

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ.

The Court held that the term “shared household” under Section 2(s) does not only mean a household of the joint family of which husband is a member or in which husband of the aggrieved person has a share. Instead, it means the household belonging to any relative of the husband with whom the women has lived in a domestic relationship.

The Court, therefore, overruled the law laid down in SR Batra v. Taruna Batra [(2007) 3 SCC 169].

2. Daughters become equal coparceners at birth even if born prior to 2005 amendment to Hindu Succession Act

Case: Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma & Ors. [2020 SCC OnLine SC 641]

Coram: Arun Mishra, S Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah, JJ.

The Court held that daughters have right in coparcenaries by birth and that it is not necessary that the father should be living when the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 came into force for the daughters to get a share. The judgment states

“The conferral of right is by birth, and the rights are given in the same manner with incidents of coparcener as that of a son and she is treated as a coparcener in the same manner with the same rights as if she had been a son at the time of birth.”

To ensure that this decision does not lead to reopening of earlier family settlements or partition suits already decreed, the apex court held that a registered settlement or partition suit decreed prior to December 20, 2004 (the date when the Amendment Bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha), will not be reopened.

3. Daughter-in-law’s right to residence under DV Act versus right of in-laws to seek eviction under Senior Citizens Act, 2007

Case: S Vanitha v. Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District [Civil Appeal No. 3822 of 2020].

Coram: DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee JJ.

The Supreme Court has held that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act has no overriding effect over the right of residence of a woman in a shared household within the meaning of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

It was also stated that the Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 may have the authority to order an eviction, if it is necessary and expedient to ensure the maintenance and protection of the senior citizen or parent. However, the over-riding effect for remedies sought under the Senior Citizens Act 2007, cannot be interpreted to preclude all other competing remedies and protections that are sought to be conferred by the DV Act 2005.

Suo Motu cases

1. Supreme Court allows service through instant tele-messenger services like WhatsApp, Email & Fax

Case: In re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation [Suo Motu (C) No. 3/2020]

Coram: SA Bobde CJ, AS Bopanna and Subhash Reddy JJ.

The Supreme Court allowed summons and notice to be served through email, fax and instant messaging applications in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order was passed while hearing a suo motu case on extending limitation of statutes due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown,

Similarly, in In Re: Guidelines for Court Functioning Through Video Conferencing During Covid-19 Pandemic [2020 SCC OnLine SC 355], the apex court in April, issued voluminous directions to implement video conferencing in all courts across the country, also stating the need to observe social distancing.

2. Prashant Bhushan held guilty for contempt of court for tweets against CJI SA Bobde

Case: In re Prashant Bhushan & Anr [2020 SCC OnLine SC 698]

Coram: Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari JJ.

The Supreme Court found Advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his tweets criticising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.

Bhushan had posted a tweet on June 29 with a photo of CJI Bobde sitting on a motorbike. The tweet said:

"CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice!"

Earlier, Bhushan had posted another tweet which read:

"When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs."

The Court held,

“The scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalize the Court are not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing. In our considered view, it cannot be said that the above tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest.”

The Court further directed him to pay Re. 1 as fine.

3. Suo Motu cognisance of COVID-19 Migrant Crisis

Case: In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers

Coram: Ashok Bhushan, Snajay Kishan Kaul, and MR Shah JJ.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the problems faced by migrant labourers “who have been stranded in different parts of the country.”

The Solicitor General was asked to apprise the Court on the steps taken by the government to address the migrant crisis.

On a later date of hearing, the Court made it clear that as per its previous order, migrant workers stranded amid the COVID-19 pandemic were mandatorily required to be transported to their hometowns within 15 days.

The authors are final year law students at Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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