Year 2021! The year that started with the hope of the COVID-19 Pandemic nearing an end with countries starting vaccination, ended up becoming deadlier than the year gone by. A year of losses for many, 2021 was also the year when the Supreme Court judges lost one of their own. Justice MM Shantanagoudar, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, breathed his last on April 24, 2021.
As the Nation was crippled with hardship and adversity, the Supreme Court refused to bog down and went on to deliver 865 judgments, which is a lot more than the number of judgments delivered in the 2020.
The year also witnessed the appointment of 9 judges, including 3 women judges and if all goes well, Justice BV Nagarathna, might take oath as the first woman Chief Justice of India in 2027! Read more…
5 judges, including the former CJI Justice SA Bobde, retired. Justice NV Ramana took oath as the 48th Chief Justice of India. Read more…
Let’s go through the most important of the 865 judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in the year 2021.
CONSTITUTION BENCH VERDICTS
Only 3 Constitution Bench judgments were delivered in the year 2021. Read all about them here.
THE MOST TALKED ABOUT CASES
Central Vista Project
The year began with the Supreme Court giving a go-ahead to the Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict. While the majority found itself compelled to wonder if it can dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else, Justice Khanna, in his dissenting opinion, observed that citizens have the right to know and participate in deliberation and decision making. [Rajiv Suri v. Delhi Development Authority, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 7]
Farm Bill and Farmer Protest
While the repeal of the Farm laws came at the fag end of the year, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of these Laws right in the beginning of the year after noticing that despite the peaceful protest, a few deaths had already taken place as Senior Citizens, youth and children were exposing themselves to not just the cold weather but also to COVID-19. [Rakesh Vaishanv v. Union of India, (2021) 1 SCC 590]
Here’s a list of some more unmissable high-profile cases:
- Tata-Mistry Spat| ‘Reinstatement by NCLAT “too big a pill” for perhaps even Cyrus Mistry to swallow’; Supreme Court upholds Cyrus Mistry’s removal as Chairman by the Tata Sons
- Amazon-Future Dispute| Emergency arbitrator’s award is referable to S. 17(1) of Indian Arbitration Act; enforceable under S. 17(2): Scopious analysis of landmark SC ruling in favour of Amazon in dispute with Future Retail
- Pegasus Spyware Case| The what, the why, the who and the how: All you need to know about SC’s independent probe order in Pegasus case
- ‘National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from’. Here’s why the initially reluctant Supreme Court finally decided to interfere
- Surveillance versus right to privacy| Five unmissable quotes from the Pegasus Order
- Yatin Oza’s Senior Designation| Supreme Court temporarily restores Yatin Oza’s Senior Advocate designation for two years
- Facebook’s role in Delhi Riots| SC puts fetter on exercise undertaken by Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee enquiring into Facebook’s role in aggravating Delhi Riots last year; Says FB representatives will have to appear
- Comedian Munawar Faruqui row| Supreme Court grants interim bail to comic Munawar Faruqui; stays Madhya Pradesh High Court’s judgment
- Activist Gautam Navlakha’s arrest under UAPA| Here’s why Gautam Navlakha was not able to make a case for default bail before the Supreme Court
THE WAY FORWARD
“The structures of our society have been created by males and for males. As a result, certain structures that may seem to be the “norm” and may appear to be harmless, are a reflection of the insidious patriarchal system.”
Nitisha v. Union of India
In 2021, the Supreme Court showed the way forward by giving many progressive orders/judgments. One of the top stories from the year 2021 was where the Court said that the administrative requirement imposed by the Indian Army authorities while considering the case of the Women Short Service Commissions Officers (WSSCO) for the grant of Permanent Commission (PC), of benchmarking these officers with the officers lowest in merit in the corresponding male batch was arbitrary and irrational.
In another important ruling, before taking the oath as the Chief Justice of India, Justice NV Ramana noticed that the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome. He added that the issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, served extremely important functions.
Here is the list of all the judgments that take us as a nation a step forward:
- ‘Not enough to proudly state that women officers are allowed to serve the nation in the Armed Forces’; Army’s evaluation of Women SSC Officers for grant of permanent commission arbitrary
- Supreme Court issues interim direction allowing women to participate in NDA exams: “It is stated that it is a 99 years old institution which will complete 100 years next year. The question is whether it completes its 100 years with gender neutrality or not!”
- POCSO| “Touch”, “physical contact” can’t be restricted to “skin to skin contact”; “sexual intent” is the key. SC reverses Bombay HC’s “dangerous precedent”
- Conception that housemakers do not add economic value to the household is “a problematic idea”: SC
- ‘Educated adults choosing their life partners is the way forward to reduce caste and community tensions’; SC comes to the aid of a young couple facing “threats from the elders”
- Married woman’s heirs on paternal side are not strangers; she can enter in family settlement with such heirs: Supreme Court
- No more asking sexual offence survivor to tie Rakhi or get married to the accused; Supreme Court calls for gender sensitisation of judges and lawyers
- A blind Scheduled Caste woman raped! Supreme Court explains intersectional oppression and how it needs to be addressed
SEDITION AND FREE SPEECH
By way of a series of judgments and orders on free speech, the Supreme made clear that, a citizen has a right to criticize or comment upon the measures undertaken by the Government and its functionaries.
In a big move, the Supreme Court also agreed to decide the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC after it was submitted before the Court that the decision of the Court in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 Supp. (2) SCR 769 required reconsideration. [Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. Union of India, (2021) 6 SCC 177]
Read everything here:
- Supreme Court to decide constitutionality of Section 124A IPC
- Open courts and freedom of media to report Court Proceedings: Unmissable Supreme Court quotes and the iconic Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak’s sedition trial
- “Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases”; Supreme Court quashes FIR against Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim
- Supreme Court grants interim bail to comic Munawar Faruqui; stays Madhya Pradesh High Court’s judgment
- Farooq Abdullah’s Article 370 comment| ‘Dissent from Govt’s decision cannot be said to be seditious’; SC junks “publicity interest litigation”; imposes heavy costs
- Why no case of sedition was made out against journalist Vinod Dua?
IBC – THE IMPERFECT LAW?
While stating that “there is nothing like a perfect law and as with all human institutions, there are bound to be imperfections”, the Supreme Court, in a 465-pages long judgment, upheld the validity of several provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Act, 2020, albeit with directions given in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India. [Manish Kumar v. Union of India, (2021) 5 SCC 1]
This judgment was followed by a series of judgments and orders on IBC. Check out the list below to read more:
- Bar under Section 10A IBC on initiation of CIRP applies retrospectively; ‘March 25, 2020’ consciously added as it coincides with the imposition of National Lockdown
- Collusive transactions with the Corporate Debtor would not constitute a ‘financial debt’ under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code: Supreme Court
- Ineligible promoters under Section 29A IBC can’t propose compromise or arrangement schemes under Section 230 of the Companies Act, 2013: Supreme Court
- Under IBC, NCLT has jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes arising solely on ground of insolvency: Supreme Court
- ‘Commercial wisdom of Committee of Creditors is not to be interfered with’; Supreme Court sheds light on the limited scope of interference by NLAT/NCLAT
- Adjudicating authority under IBC may disapprove the resolution plan approved by the Committee of Creditors but cannot modify it: Supreme Court
- Application under S. 7 or S. 9 IBC is an independent proceeding unaffected by winding up proceedings that may be filed qua the same company
- Any creditor including Central/State Government or any local authority bound by Resolution Plan approved by adjudicating authority under Section 31(1) IBC: Supreme Court
- Nothing wrong with IBC Notification treating personal guarantors differently from other categories of individuals
- No bar to amendment of S. 7 IBC petition until final order; Money decree, recovery certificate in financial creditor’s favour gives fresh cause of action to initiate corporate insolvency resolution process: SC
- IBC and Limitation| Words “order is made available to the aggrieved party” consciously omitted from Section 61(1)&(2): SC
RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
“In their blooming and blossoming, we all bloom and blossom.”
Vikash Kumar v. Union Public Service Commission,
This year witnessed many Supreme Court Judgments and orders on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Check out this list to know more:
- Read how denial of scribe to a person suffering from writer’s cramp led to SC issuing directions for formulation of new policies
- Govt must reserve posts for promotions for persons with disabilities even under 1995 PwD Act; explore other methods to avoid stagnation: Supreme Court
- Karnataka High Court calls person committing suicide a ‘weakling’! Don’t diminish the gravity of mental health issues, says SC
- NEET| “Behind abstract number of ‘15 lakh students’ lie human lives”; SC asks NTA to rectify injustice caused to a “one-off” PwBD student
- Disciplinary proceedings against person with mental disability is a facet of indirect discrimination; SC sets aside action against CRPF personnel
- Pupil-teacher ratio for special schools; special teachers for Children with Special Needs in general schools: Read SC’s stopgap arrangement till Centre notifies norms
- Lifting differently abled persons without consent; removing their prosthetic limbs/calipers for security checks, inhuman: SC
DEMOCRACY AND TRANSPERANCY
No-one is above law; this was the Supreme Court message as it stressed on importance of transparency by Political Parties and Government Institutions.
- Appointment of Government official as Election Commissioner “a mockery of the constitutional mandate”; ECs must be independent: Supreme Court
- Elected legislators cannot claim privilege or immunity to stand above sanctions of criminal law: SC rules out withdrawal of criminal case against MLAs in 2015 Kerala Assembly ruckus
- SC issues directions to make voter’s right to information more effective; penalises political parties for non-compliance with earlier directions regarding disclosure of criminal antecedents: Read full report
- Allotment of Government Largesse| Discretionary quota inevitably leads to corruption, nepotism, favouritism. Time to do away with it: SC
THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PROPERTY
In a case where State took possession of surplus land in absence of surplus land, this Supreme Court’s verdict served as a reminder that right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India though not a fundamental right. The deprivation of the right can only be in accordance with the procedure established by law. [Bajranga v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 27]
WHEN A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT WAS STRUCK DOWN
In a rare move, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011 which inter alia inserted Part IX-B was ultra vires the Constitution insofar it is concerned with the subject of Cooperative Societies for want of the requisite ratification under Article 368(2) proviso. [Union of India v. Rajendra N. Shah, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 474]
Read: Part IX-B of Constitution relating to cooperative societies unconstitutional for want of ratification by half of the States; Provisions relating to multi-State cooperative societies severable and valid: SC
THE “EVEN MORE DESERVING PARTIES”
Section 89 of CPC and Section 69-A of Tamil Nadu Court Fees and Suit Valuation Act, 1955 contemplate the refund of court fees in all methods of out-of-court dispute settlement between parties that the Court subsequently finds to have been legally arrived at and not just to those cases where the Court itself refers the parties to any of the alternative dispute settlement mechanisms listed in Section 89 of the CPC.
The Court observed that the parties agreeing to out-of-court settlement are “even more deserving”. [High Court of Madras v. MC Subramaniam, (2021) 3 SCC 560]
BANKS AND BANKING
While the Constitution bench looked down upon the “mechanical” conversion of complaints under Section 138 NI Act from summary to summons trial and directed that the magistrates “must” record reasons, many other important decisions were given in 2021.
- Bank not a trustee of money deposited by Customers; Supreme Court holds the relationship between customer and Bank is one of a creditor and a debtor and not of a trustee
- Loan Moratorium Case| Supreme Court says no to total waiver of interest and extension of moratorium period but directs full waiver of compound interest
- ‘Section 138 NI Act proceeding a “civil sheep” in a “criminal wolf’s” clothing’; quasi criminal proceedings against corporate debtor covered under Section 14(1)(a) IBC : SC
- Sections 138 and 141 of NI Act: Vicarious liability of directors of a company for dishonour of cheques
- Section 138 of NI Act| No hard and fast rule that a cheque issued as security can never be presented by drawee: Supreme Court
- Section 138 NI Act| Once settlement has been entered into, the complainant cannot pursue the original complaint: Supreme Court
- Section 138 NI Act: Is the ‘debt incurred after the drawing of the cheque but before its encashment’ excluded from ‘debt or any other liability’?
The Supreme Court took cognizance of Government’s lackadaisical attitude towards consumer empowerment and observed that the ground reality is quite different as there is little endeavour to translate this Legislative intent into an administrative infrastructure with requisite facilities, members and staff to facilitate the decision on the consumer complaint.
Here are the important rulings on Consumer Protection that you cannot miss:
- SC takes cognizance of Government’s lackadaisical attitude towards consumer empowerment; Issues directions to conduct a Legislative Impact Study on Consumer Protection Act, 2019
- Supreme Court spells out if consumer fora can apply the New India Assurance company Ltd judgment prospectively and accept the written statement beyond 45 days
- Consumer Protection| Can written statement be accepted beyond 45 days? SC settles pre and post New India Assurance Company Verdict conundrum once and for all
- Proceedings instituted under Consumer Protection Act, 1986 not to be transferred to fora created under 2019 Act with newly prescribed pecuniary limits: Supreme Court
- Can more than one consumer institute a complaint under Consumer Protection Act 2019? Why is the definition of “complainant” misleading?
- Consumer Protection| Open to NCDRC to direct deposit of entire or more than 50 % of the amount ordered by SCDRC while staying SCDRC ‘s order: SC
FROM “DEATH” TO “LIFE”
In 3 cases, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of the convicts to Life Imprisonment and in one case, 3 death row convicts were acquitted of all charges.
- SC relief to death row convicts who killed 8 members of their brother’s family over property dispute; To serve LI for 30 years
- 5-year-old raped, killed, thrown into a stream: SC commutes death sentence to life imprisonment
- Three death row convicts to walk free as SC finds them “not guilty” of murdering six family members
- SC awards 30 years RI to man who killed 2 brothers & nephew; Finds imposition of death penalty on the day of conviction itself, wrong
MOTOR ACCIDENTS CLAIMS
Read how a one-stop online platform for all parties involved and Motor Vehicle Appellant Tribunals will help in achieving a hassle free disposal of Motor Vehicle Accident claims:
- Motor accidents claims| A one-stop online platform for Insurers, Police and Tribunals across the country soon to be a reality? Read Supreme Court directions
- SC looks to curb the menace of fake Compensation Claims under Motor Vehicles Act; impleads Ministry of Transport
- ‘Motor Vehicle Appellate Tribunals’ may soon be a reality? Read SC’s suggestion to Ministry of Law and Justice
No year goes by without the Supreme Court delivering some important ruling on Arbitration and the year 2021 was no different.
Read the updates here:
- Aggrieved by an order refusing condonation of delay in filing application under section 34 of the Arbitration Act, 1996? Appeal lies, holds Supreme Court
- SC calls for amendment to Sections 11(7) & 37 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. Read how Vidya Drolia judgment has led to an anomaly
- 3 years’ limitation period ‘unduly long’; Necessary for Parliament to fill the vacuum by prescribing a specific period of limitation under Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation 1996: SC
- Aggrieved by an order refusing condonation of delay in filing application under section 34 of the Arbitration Act, 1996? Appeal lies, holds Supreme Court
- Limitation for challenging arbitral award can only commence from date of receipt of signed copy and not from the receipt of draft: Supreme Court
- Maintainability of counter claims in arbitration proceedings under Section 18(3) of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006
- SC resolves quandary over interplay of S. 9 and S. 17 of Arbitration Act
A GUIDE FOR THE BENCH!
“The Magistrates are the first lines of defence for both the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the harassed and distraught litigant.”
Krishna Lal Chawla v. State of U.P.,
In 2021, the Court also delivered a number of judgments on the issues of pendency of cases, judicial vacancies and overall standard to be followed by the members of bench while dealing with case.
Read all about these judgments here:
- Imprisonment for life is equivalent to rigorous imprisonment for life
- Judges speak through their judgments and orders: Supreme Court pens down it’s opinion on oral regimes
- “Writing judgments is an art”: Pained by lack of clarity in HC order, Supreme Court explains importance, purpose, contents and elements of a judgment
- Curtailing vexatious litigation is a crucial step towards a more effective justice system; Supreme Court examines role of lower judiciary in preventing abuse of process
- Ad-hoc judges to be appointed to deal with unprecedented pendency of cases in High Courts. Supreme Court issues guidelines and “trigger points” for activation of dormant Article 224A
- With 220 vacancies, “the High Courts are in a crisis situation”; Here’s what the Supreme Court advised to facilitate timely appointments
- Deficiencies in Criminal Trials and pendency of cases| Supreme Court directs all High Courts to adopt the Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021
- Interim protection from arrest in a sexual offence case? Record some reasons at least!
- The 14 directions by Supreme Court to ensure timely execution of decrees
- Open for Courts to order house arrest under Section 167 CrPC
- “If this is how proceedings will go on …”: SC accentuates importance of succinctly framed written synopsis; time-bound oral arguments; crisp, clear and precise judgments
- SC invokes independence of judiciary, separation of powers to invalidate amendments in Finance Act, 2017 prescribing 50 yrs minimum age for appointment to Tribunals, allowances payable to members, term of office
- Judges should exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary remarks against conduct of the counsel: SC orders expunging adverse remarks against advocate with 17 yrs of standing at the Bar
- Conundrum of res judicata and rejection of plaint: SC summarises guiding principles for deciding an application under Or. 7 R. 11(d) CPC
- No more Tareekh pe Tareekh! Repeated adjournments break the back of the litigants; kill justice: Supreme Court
- HC quashes proceedings based on “draft charge-sheet” yet to be placed before Magistrate! Clear abuse of S. 482 CrPC, holds SC
As the second wave of COVID-19 brought the nation to its knees, the Supreme Court did everything in it’s power to ensure that the loss is minimized.
Read all the important judgments here:
- Extend benefits of welfare schemes not only to children orphaned by Covid-19 but also to children orphaned during Covid-19: Supreme Court
- Children orphaned by COVID-19| No illegal adoption; no discontinuance of education: Here’s the list of Supreme Court directions
- Apprehension of COVID-19 a ground for anticipatory bail: Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court’s order. Here’s all you need to know about the case
- COVID-19| Dry Ration/Community kitchen for stranded migrant workers; Common National Database for all organised workers: Supreme Court issues directions
- COVID-19 surge| As nation gasps for breath, Supreme Court calls for “even handed” distribution of COVID essentials like oxygen, Remdesivir; asks Centre to submit a “national plan”
- Madras High Court’s remarks harsh, metaphor inappropriate but can’t be expunged; Supreme Court junks EC’s plea seeking restrain on Media reporting Court proceedings