CAA protests, NLSIU domicile reservation and more: The Karnataka High Court in 2020

From conducting video conference hearings in one case for 25 working days to reducing the number of holidays, the Court did its best to ensure that the litigants do not suffer.
CAA protests, NLSIU domicile reservation and more: The Karnataka High Court in 2020
Karnataka High CourtCAA protest

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to bring the justice delivery system to a standstill this year, the Karnataka High Court, like other courts across the country, had to resort to a virtual system of hearings starting from April 2020.

Though the Court lost a considerable amount of time owing to the pandemic, it took various steps to make up for the same. From conducting video conference hearings in one case for 25 working days to reducing the number of holidays, the Court did its best to ensure that the litigants do not suffer.

While dispensing justice through virtual means, the Court managed to hear pressing matters and pass a number of definitive verdicts this year.

Here are some of the most important cases heard by the Court during 2020.

CAA protests and Section 144 in Bangalore

In January, the Karnataka High Court held that the prohibitory order passed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) on December 18 in Bangalore was illegal and does not stand the test of judicial scrutiny laid down by the Apex Court.

The Section 144 order was imposed in Bangalore on the said date, in the wake of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Two days after the prohibitory order was passed, the High Court had taken up for hearing a challenge filed against the same. In its order, a Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Sreeniwas Oka and Justice Hemant Chandangoudar held,

"Unfortunately, in the present case, there is no indication of an independent mind by the District Magistrate while passing the order… Section 144 order does not stand the test laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Anuradha Bhasin and Ramlila Maidan."

Guidelines to curb child pornography

In July, the Court had issued a set of pertinent directions in a batch of pleas highlighting the issue of child pornography in child care institutions. The directions ranged from issuing guidelines to curb child pornography to formulating a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for dealing with the issue of missing children.

In its order, the Court had specifically noted that police officers showed a lack of sensitivity while dealing with cases pertaining to alleged instances of child pornography.

A most inhuman practice

Terming manual scavenging as a "most inhuman" practice, the High Court in December issued a slew of directions to ensure the proper implementation of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (Manual Scavengers Act).

A Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty observed that the Indian Constitution in no way permits any form of manual scavenging. It held,

"There can be no dispute that our Constitutional philosophy does not permit any form of manual scavenging. Right of a citizen to live with dignity is an integral part of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The preamble of the Constitution shows that the Constitution seeks to protect the dignity of an individual. There can be no dispute that manual scavenging is most inhuman and it infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21."

The Court also held that if any citizen is forced to do manual scavenging, it would be a gross violation of his/her fundamental right conferred by Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Franklin Templeton trustees debt schemes

The Court held that no interference can be made in the decision of the trustees to wind up the six debt schemes of Franklin Templeton. However, the Court clarified that the consent of unit holders as per the regulations is to be obtained before going through the winding-up process.

The Court also deemed it appropriate to stay the operation of its judgment for a period of six weeks and directed the respondents to refrain from taking any steps on the basis of the notices issued by Franklin Templeton in April and May.

The judgment was passed after 25 days of virtual hearing. This is probably one of the longest hearings conducted via video conference, Chief Justice Oka remarked while pronouncing the order.

Karnataka High Court
Franklin Templeton case before the Karnataka High Court: A template for lengthy hearings via video conference?

OCI cardholders to be treated as Indian citizens for professional course admission

Minor children of Indian citizens born overseas must have the same status, rights and duties as Indian citizens, and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders should be treated as Indian citizens for the purpose of admission to professional educational institutions, the Karnataka High Court held.

A Division Bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and NS Sanjay Gowda in effect quashed section 2(1)(n) of the Karnataka Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission & Determination of Fee) Act, 2006 to the extent it includes 'Overseas Citizens of India' or 'Overseas Citizens of India Cardholders' within the definition of "Non-Resident Indian" (NRI).

The Court also said that the Citizenship Act is the umbilical cord through which the Indian diaspora the world over has a connection with India.

Right of individual to marry person of his/her choice is a fundamental right

The right of an individual to marry any person of his/her choice irrespective of caste or religion is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India, the Karnataka High Court reaffirmed while ordering release of a woman in a Habeas Corpus petition filed by her lover.

A Bench of Justices S Sujata and Sachin Shankar Magadum said that liberty relating to the personal relationships of two individuals cannot be encroached by anybody.

"It is well settled that a right of any major individual to marry the person of his/her choice is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India and the said liberty relating to the personal relationships of two individuals cannot be encroached by anybody irrespective of caste or religion", the Court said.

Pension is indefeasible right of an employee

The Karnataka High Court ruled that pension is not a bounty, charity or a gratuitous payment, but an indefeasible right of every employee.

A Single Judge Bench of Justice M Nagaprasanna opined that pension payable to employees on superannuation is property under Article 300-A as well as a fundamental right to livelihood under Article 21 the Constitution. Therefore, deprivation of even a part of it cannot be accepted. The Court held,

"The deprivation of even a part of this amount cannot be accepted, except in accordance with law, as pension is neither a bounty, charity or a gratuitous payment but an indefeasible right of an employee in terms of the Rules. Terminal benefits will enable a retired employee to live a life free from want, with decency, independence and self-respect. Depriving such right to livelihood, will leave a pensioner fall on the thorns of life and bleed."

Capital punishment recommended for gang-rape

Stating that gang-rape is more dangerous than murder, the Karnataka High Court recommended capital punishment for gang-rape in addition to the existing provisions of life imprisonment with fine.

The Court made the above recommendation while upholding the life sentence imposed on seven accused of gang-raping a student of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore in 2012.

In its judgment, the Bench also stressed on the need for gender sensitivity in order to curb the offence of rape. It noted,

"We hope and trust that the increasing gender sensitivity is crucial to enhance women's safety. The safety of women is not a guarantee despite the stringent amended law is placed after Nirbhaya's case..."

NLSIU domicile reservation quashed

The Karnataka High Court quashed the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Amendment Act, 2020, by which 25% reservation was introduced at the University for students domiciled in the State.

The order was passed by a Division Bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ravi V Hosmani in a batch of pleas challenging the 25% domicile reservation introduced at NLSIU Bangalore.

The Bench held that the NLSIU Amendment Act was ultra vires and contrary to the provisions of the parent Act (NLSIU Act). It was further held that the State government does not have the power to enact the Amendment Act that brought in the 25% domicile reservation for admissions to NLSIU.

Bidar Sedition case

While dealing with a PIL concerning the illegal questioning of minor students of Shaheen Education Society in Bidar, the Karnataka High Court had asked whether the Investigating Officer who did the questioning was in civil clothes or police uniform.

The Division Bench of Chief justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi asked,

"Was the Investigating Officer in civil clothes? The photographs submitted by petitioners show otherwise..."

Responding to this, Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi said that the photographs would have to be verified, and that the state wasn't sure if the photographs were "doctored".

While hearing the PIL, the High Court had also questioned whether the police was sufficiently trained to interrogate the students. To this, the State had replied that the students were merely counselled, and not interrogated.

Earlier this year, a complaint was filed by a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) alleging that a play staged by classes 4, 5 and 6 students of Shaheen School on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) contained dialogue that insulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Subsequently, the police filed an FIR against the management of the school. The main allegation against the school administration was that it facilitated the spreading of false information about the newly passed CAA, spread negative opinions about the Parliament's laws among students, and further contributed to communal tension.

The Headmistress and a mother of a student were subsequently arrested. They were later enlarged on bail, while the school management also successfully obtained anticipatory bail from the district court in Bidar.

Karnataka High Court
"Ingredients of Sedition are prima facie lacking" - Read order of Bidar Court granting Anticipatory Bail to Shaheen School management

Amulya Leona case

In July, a petitioner Advocate had faced the ire of the Karnataka High Court in a plea seeking to transfer the Sedition case against 19-year-old student Amulya Leona Noronha to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

A Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy asked,

"What is so special that investigation should be transferred to NIA?"

Petitioner Advocate Pavana Chandra Shetty had argued that in Amulya's case, the police had not investigated the matter properly and had failed to file a chargesheet within 90 days. Moreover, it was said that Amulya's case was a serious matter as it is against national integration and unity.

Before proceeding to dismiss the plea, the Bench had further questioned the advocate as to how it could cancel bail that was already granted to a person.

Amulya was charged with Sedition for allegedly raising pro-Pakistan slogans during an Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rally held in Bengaluru in February, 2020.

In June, she was granted bail by a Bengaluru Court after the police failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated time period of 90 days from her arrest.

Karnataka High Court
Slogans will affect the feelings of public; may commit similar offence: Bangalore court rejects sedition accused Amulya Leona's bail plea

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