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Review of Judgments and orders passed by the High Court in April.
With its vast and varied case-docket, the High Court of Delhi has occasion to pronounce verdicts on diverse subjects and myriad areas of law. This two-part monthly column attempts to offer a brief over-view of the important pronouncements of the High Court of Delhi over the period of the relevant month in review. While an attempt has been made to ensure the widest possible coverage of the various judgments rendered, comprehensive analysis and critique of the individual judgments is eschewed for the sake of brevity.
On account of the curtailed working of the High Court of Delhi in the month of April, owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the fewer number of judgments pronounced during the month, the April column shall consist of a single consolidated part.
In Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. v. State Trading Corporation of India Ltd., the Court reiterated that a prayer under Section 9 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (‘Arbitration Act’) could not seek the ultimate relief which was to be agitated in the arbitration proceedings. The Court further observed that the intention of the petitioner to ultimately refer the disputes to arbitration was a sine-qua-non for entertaining a petition under Section 9.
In Anant Raj Ltd. v. Yes Bank Ltd., the Court held that a Bank could not have classified a real-estate company which failed to repay installments owing to the financial crisis which arose as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak as a Non-Performing Asset in view of the moratorium measures rolled out by the Reserve Bank of India to ease the financial stress on borrowers.
While rejecting a prayer for exemption from paying school fees during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Court in Naresh Kumar v. Director of Education observed that the scope of interference with an executive action seeking to provide relief in response to a certain situation is confined only to non-grant of mandatorily required relief or discriminatory or arbitrary disbursal of relief, and cannot in the normal course extend to a review on the merits of the scope and extent of the relief provided.
In Jyotsna Shingwani v. Union of India, while not entering upon the controversy of the constitutional validity of Sections 3(2)(b) and 5(1) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (‘MTP Act’), the Court held that when it was amply clear from the material on record that even though the continuation of the pregnancy did not pose a risk to the mental or physical health of the mother but the fetus was likely to suffer from a physical abnormality which would seriously compromise its ability to lead a healthy and normal life, the rigor imposed by Section 3(2) of the MTP Act can be relaxed and a request for the termination of pregnancy beyond the gestation period of 20 weeks could be permitted.
In Gopi Chand v. Geeta Devi, the Court reiterated that a judgment in a civil suit must return findings only on issues which have been framed and which issues, in turn, arise from the pleadings, and that a suit cannot be dismissed for reasons which have no foundation in the pleadings and/or on which no issue has been struck.
In Ajit Kumar v. Union of India and Sama-Resource Group for Women and Health v. Union of India, the Court directed the setting up of a dedicated helpline by the Delhi Government for senior citizens and pregnant women, respectively, in view of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In Vaibhav Sharma v. Air India Limited, while expressing satisfaction at the measures taken for pilots and other cabin crew members operating international flights, the Court accepted the stand of the authorities that it was logistically infeasible to quarantine crew members in hotels or separate buildings, and that home quarantine was the best option in the circumstances.
In Yash Aggarwal v. Union of India, the Court expressed its satisfaction with the protocols put in place to treat non-Covid illnesses in the time of the pandemic and rebuffed allegations that the treatment of the said persons was being ignored.
In Sunil Kumar Aledia v. Government of NCT of Delhi the Court directed the concerned authority to ensure that sufficient arrangement of food, portable water, electricity and sanitary facilities were provided at labour camps. Similarly, the Court in National Campaign Committee for Eradication of Bonded Labour India News Communications Ltd. v. Government of NCT of Delhi directed the appointment of a nodal officers at the labour camps.
In Ajay Kumar v. IIFL Home Finance Ltd., the Court as a purely humanitarian measure permitted a family to re-occupy one floor of a multistoried property of which possession had been taken over pursuant to proceedings under the Securitization & Reconstruction of Financial Assets & Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002.
In Indrajit Power Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, the Court held that consistent and significant breaches of a contract by an entity prior to the period of the lockdown would not be overlooked and could not be ignored when construing a prayer for relief premised on the ground that the Covid-19 outbreak had alone compromised the ability of the entity to perform the contract.
In Court of its Own Motion v. State, the Court noted that in view of the unprecedented circumstances prevailing on account of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Court ordered the doing away with the condition of furnishing surety bond for obtaining bail and instead allowed the under-trial prisoners to be released on furnishing of a personal bond to the satisfaction of the Superintendent of the jail.
In MEP Infrastructure Developers Ltd. v. South Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Court observed that when an effective date had been postponed for the duration of the initial national lockdown of 21 days, then by adopting the same rationale under normal circumstances, the extension should be continued for the further extended period of the lockdown.
In Rajat Vats v. Government of NCT of Delhi, the Court refused to interfere with the policy decision of the Directorate of Education permitting schools to charge fees in light of the fact that almost all the schools were conducting online classes and the teachers were also accordingly discharging their duties. The Court, however, noted that in terms of the policy, in genuine cases, the schools could not deny access to online classes and other facilities due to non-payment of fees on account of the financial crunch caused due to the lockdown.
Despite there being significant pending electricity dues, on humanitarian considerations and in view of the evident difficulty in staying at home in the absence of electricity, the Court in Vipin Vig v. BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd. directed restoration of the electricity connection while subjecting the petitioner to a staggered repayment schedule.
In Bansal Infratech Synergies Limited v. GAIL India Limited, the Court allowed an application under Section 29A of the Arbitration Act for extension of time to complete the arbitration proceedings on account of the COVID-19 lockdown, albeit with the consent of the parties.
In Civilian Welfare and Development Trust v. Nidhi Srivastava IAS, the Court held that an order of a Court or an undertaking recorded in an order can be overridden by a significant supervening event such as the declaration of the relevant area of which the relief was concerned as a containment zone, and that it was accordingly open to the Court exercising contempt jurisdiction to take into account the subsequent event and the consequent impossibility to abide by the order. The Court also reiterated that an appeal under Section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 would only lie against an order punishing for contempt, and not against an order rejecting the contempt petition.
In Praveen Kumar @ Prashant v. State of NCT of Delhi, the Court directed criminal prosecution of the Station House Officer of a police station under Section 4(2)(b) of the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 inasmuch as it found that the concerned officer had exhibited complete dereliction of duty and had turned a deaf ear to various complaints lodged by the complainant of having been subjected to casteist slurs and death threats.
In Shivender Mohan Singh v. State of NCT of Delhi, the Court while rejecting a plea for bail observed that inasmuch as the petitioner in the said case, was in isolation in his own cell, and that even for usage of common facilities, social distancing could be maintained, then the argument of over-crowding in the jail and the consequent danger of contracting COVID-19 would not be available to him.
In Christian Michel James v. Central Bureau of Investigation, the Court held that when the previous conduct of the Petitioner would reveal that he had consistently moved across different countries to avoid arrest, and had eventually to be extradited to India, then the petitioner definitely constituted a flight risk and could not be discharged on bail.
In Shadab Alam v. State, the Court observed that even when it appeared prima-facie that the accused may not have directly torched any vehicle or shop, as to whether he was a part of the unlawful assembly so as to attract the offence under Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, would be a matter of investigation and at a preliminary stage, when the video footage was yet to be examined and the identity of the persons who were present on the spot yet to be ascertained, no ground for bail was made out.
In Rinku Kumari v. University of Delhi, the Court observed that there was no manifest illegality in the concerned authorities referring to the University Grants Commission (Minimum Standard and Procedure for award of M.Phil./Ph.D. Degrees) Regulations, 2016, which brought about the relaxation in the timeframe for completion of Ph.D. programs by woman candidates, for supporting a recommendation for extension of time in the submission of the Ph.D. thesis on bona-fide grounds even before the said Regulations were formally adopted by the University.
The Court in Keller Williams Realty Inc. v. Dingle Buildcons Pvt. Ltd., reiterated that for a foreign entity which has no market presence in India, it was essential to establish not only that it enjoys reputation and goodwill outside India, but also that the said reputation and goodwill had transcended territorial boundaries and spilled over to India in order to establish a case of infringement or passing off.
In Reckitt Benckiser (India) Ltd. v. Hindustan Unilever Ltd., the Court observed that permitting a party to air an advertisement which had already been found to be disparaging and, accordingly, restrained from being broadcast within a particular territory by another High Court, would be violative of the principle of comity of courts and the Court would in the normal circumstances veer towards adopting the same course of action as adopted by the other High Court.
In Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd. v. Creative Tours & Travels (India) Pvt. Ltd., the Court observed that Section 22 of the Companies Act, 1956 complements the law of trademarks to the extent that if through inadvertence or otherwise, the name by which a company is registered is identical to or very similar to the name by which a company in existence has been previously registered or the name in which a company has been registered is identical to or very similar to a registered trade mark under the Trade Marks Act, 1999, then there is a provision for change/rectification of the name of the company. The Court further noted that similar provisions existed in the Companies Act, 2013 in the form of Sections 4(2) and 16.
In Hari Singh v. Union of India, the Court held that the wide power available with an executing court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to even determine the validity and legality of a will in execution proceedings, would also extend to an executing court which is disbursing compensation for land acquisition pursuant to proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act, 1984.
In Ajay Gupta v. Sonia Gupta, the Court held that inasmuch as the proceedings before a Family Court are not criminal in nature, it could not be said to be bound down by the procedure stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. While arriving at the said conclusion, the Court disagreed with the contrary views expressed by the Karnataka High Court (Sunanda v. Bharat Naik) and the Bombay High Court (Anil Ambashankar Joshi v. Reena Anil Joshi). The Court, while holding that the Family Court was competent to frame its own procedure for taking evidence, upheld the decision of the Family Court to accept evidence by way of an affidavit, and further permitting it to be tendered as the examination-in-chief, with the attendant permission to cross-examine the deponent.
In Col. Ramneesh Pal Singh v. Sugandhi Aggarwal, the Court observed that the nature of the job held by the father, resulting in frequent transfers to remote locations which were not conducive to a stable environment for the children, though definitely an exigency of service, was an important consideration to be kept in mind while determining the welfare of the children. The Court further held that merely because the children had stayed with the father for a significant period of time due to delay in adjudication of the application for interim custody filed by the mother, it would not lead to any vested right with the father to ask for a continuation of the status-quo.
In Vickram Bahl v. Siddhartha Bahl, the Court reiterated that in the case of a mutual will, the same would come into effect and bind the surviving testator upon the death of the co-testator, and all the restrictions enshrined therein would also apply on the surviving testator. The Court further observed that such a mutual will would represent a binding agreement between the two testators and, therefore, the mutual will would override the entitlement of the co-testator/wife to claim absolute ownership of the property under Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, in the event of her co-testator husband pre-deceasing her.
The Court in Gopi Chand v. Geeta Devi, held that even an allotment by way of license in relation to an immoveable property, which had continued after the demise of the licensee, represents valuable property and can be partitioned amongst the legal heirs of the licensee.
The Court while construing the clauses of a will in Kamal Parti v. Raj Kumar Parti, held that the interpretation has to be one which solemnly gives effect to the wishes of the deceased person and the will cannot be construed in the same manner as commercial contract or agreement. Accordingly, on an overall conspectus of the will, the Court in the aforesaid context extended the restriction contained in the will on the sale of the property by the surviving wife, to a gift by her as well, even though in the technical sense a ‘gift’ was distinct from a ‘sale’.
In Delhi Development Authority v. Pushpa Lata, the Court held that inasmuch as a Gaon Sabha is not included in the definition of ‘bhumibhdar’ under Section 5 of the Land Reforms Act, 1954 (‘LR Act’) and as a Gaon Sabha is defined in Section 3(10) as being established under Sections 150 and 151 of the said Act, the benefit of Section 67(d) of the LR Act would be inapplicable and consequently would not result in the person in unauthorized occupation acquiring any rights even if the Goan Sabha failed to take any action.
In Eagle Theatres v. Union of India, while upholding the imposition of a higher conversion charge on cinema and hotel sites as compared to other commercial plots, the Court observed that the relevant notification for determining the conversion rates could not seek to utilize the rates for commercial properties prior to the issuance of the impugned notification inasmuch as the distinct category of conversion rates for cinema sites would not exist prior to the impugned notification.
In Jagdish Chander Chadha v. Union of India, while adjudicating upon the entitlement towards allotment of land under a particular scheme, the Court deprecated the consistent failure of the authorities in verifying the documents relied upon by the petitioner despite repeated opportunities and observed that it amply reflected the usual plight of a citizen who had to deal with multiple authorities.
In Rajveer Sharma v. Union of India, the Court held that when the predecessor-in-interest had not accepted an offer of allotment of the concerned plot of land by the authority concerned, then in the said situation one of the legal heirs could not seek such an allotment in his/her favor many years thereafter.
In Jindal Fittings Ltd. v. Union of India, the Court reiterated that the initial onus remains that of the assesse to establish the genuineness of the transaction and creditworthiness of the investors/loan depositors under Section 68 of the Income Tax Act, 1961, and which provision also includes within its scope. the investments made or unsecured loans received.
The Court in PKSS Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. v. South Delhi Municipal Corporation, observed that it cannot be stated as a general proposition that all tender processes have to necessarily be postponed as a consequence of the lockdown on account of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly when issuance and/or finalization of the said tender is essential to subserve the public interest. The Court further observed that when sufficient safeguards to ensure wider participation such as online mode of tender, holding of pre-bid conference through video conferencing have been put in place, then it could not be presumed that there would definitively be a poor response or no participation in the tender by interested bidders.
Dr. Amit George is an Advocate practicing before the High Court of Delhi. The author would like to place on record his appreciation for the assistance provided by Advocates Rishabh Dheer, Amol Acharya, Bharat Rayadurgam and Piyo Harold Jaimon.
Read the Delhi High Court review from August 2019