“We gained our freedom at a great cost. Every Indian, therefore, has to use his liberties to constantly question the actions of those in power because democracy gives no tickets to free meals. It is for us to assert and guard liberty and not be complacent about any encroachment.”1
– Justice S. Ravindra Bhat
Justice Shripathi Ravindra Bhat, a name that resonates with the legal community in India, was born on 21-10-1958 in the culturally rich city of Mysore, Karnataka.2 His life and career have been marked by academic excellence and a profound commitment to upholding justice. From his early education in Bangalore and Gwalior to his current position as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Bhat’s journey is a testament to his dedication to the law.
Justice S. Ravindra Bhat’s educational journey began in the bustling city of Bangalore, where he laid the foundation of his academic excellence. Subsequently, he continued his studies in Gwalior, where he honed his intellectual skills. His formative years were spent in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Faridabad,3 where he received a comprehensive and well-rounded education.
As he ventured into higher education, Justice Bhat pursued Bachelor of Arts (Honors) degree in English at Hindu College, University of Delhi in 1979. His time in this esteemed institution not only broadened his horizons but also fostered a deep appreciation for literature and nuances of the English language.4
However, his pursuit of legal knowledge was not far behind. Justice Bhat obtained his LL.B. degree from the Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, in 1982. This marked the beginning of his illustrious legal career, setting the stage for his contributions to the legal landscape of India.
Journey through Legal Practice
Justice Bhat’s legal journey took off when he was enrolled as an Advocate with the Delhi Bar Council in 1982. He decided to focus on practicing law in the Supreme Court of India, where one day he would go on to make a significant impact. Notably, he was enrolled as an Advocate on Record in 1989, which is a prestigious recognition bestowed upon the most skilled and competent legal practitioners in India.5
Throughout his legal career, Justice Bhat specialized in Public Law, Employment Law, Education Law, and Constitutional Disputes.6 He worked as Special Counsel on behalf of the State of Punjab in the Ravi Beas Water Disputes Tribunal from 1986 to 1998. He also worked as Government Counsel for the State of Uttar Pradesh in Supreme Court from 1998 to 2000 and as a counsel for Union of India in Central Government Agency ‘B’ panel.7
Justice Bhat emerged as a formidable legal mind and had the privilege of representing clients in several crucial cases before the Constitution Benches of the Supreme Court, making substantial contributions to the development of jurisprudence in the country.
Justice Bhat’s remarkable career in the legal profession was further cemented when he was appointed as an Additional Judge of the Delhi High Court on 16-07-2004. This appointment marked a pivotal moment in his career, as he began to serve as a judge, delivering justice to countless individuals and organizations. He was then elevated as a Permanent Judge of the Delhi High Court on 20-02-2006.8
Justice Bhat has always shown keen interest in the e-court project and is in favour of re-engineering the legal system to make the Court technologically advanced. According to him, this will save time and will make working in the courts easier and ensure speedy disposal of cases.9
Did You Know? During his tenure as Judge of Delhi High Court, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat headed India’s first High Court level e-court.10
Justice Bhat achieved another milestone when he was appointed as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Rajasthan on 05-05-2019.11 Finally, on 23-09-2019, Justice Bhat was elevated to the highest echelons of the Indian judiciary, as he assumed the position of a Judge of the Supreme Court of India.12 In this esteemed role, he contributed to shaping the legal landscape of the nation and making decisions that would have far-reaching implications.
Judgments by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat
Justice Bhat played a pivotal role in significant Constitution benches while tackling crucial constitutional questions. His bench has been engaged in various crucial cases, including custodial killings, investigations into police encounter killings, the validity of Assam Government’s rules regarding reservations in medical colleges, the powers of a Special Investigation Team (SIT), issuing directives to ensure safety and preserve the sanctity of the court and many others, thereby reflecting a commitment towards upholding the ideals of justice and ensuring that the principles of fairness and equality remain the bedrock of a democratic society.
Notable Judgements at Supreme Court
Did You Know? Justice S Ravindra Bhat had recused himself from hearing the Centre’s plea seeking Rs 7,844 crore as additional fund from successor firms of US-based Union Carbide Corporation for giving compensation to the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy victims.13
In Initiatives for Inclusion Foundation v. Union of India,14 a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India filed by the petitioner seeking issuance of writ of mandamus or appropriate directions to the Union Government, and each State and Union Territory (respondents) government to take steps for implementing the provisions of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) read with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (POSH Rules), the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Dipankar Datta, JJ. gave a slew of directions-
on the coordination between Union Government and State/UT Governments regarding the implementation of the POSH Act;
for appointment of public authorities;
to the State for filling amendments and gaps in POSH Rules;
on training of District Officers and Local Committees;
preparation of annual compliance reports.
In Assessing Officer Circle (International Taxation) v. Nestle SA,15 bunch of appeals arising from Delhi High Court’s order involving interpretation of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause contained in various Indian treaties with countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where the division bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Dipankar Datta, JJ., while deciding whether the Most Favored Nation (MFN) clause is to be given effect to automatically, or if it is to only come into effect after a notification is issued, held that a notification under Section 90(1) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 is necessary and a mandatory condition for a court, authority, or tribunal to give effect to a Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), or any protocol changing its terms or conditions, which has the effect of altering the existing provisions of law.
In We the Women of India v. Union of India,16 a Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and Aravind Kumar, JJ., opined that the need for support person should not be left to parents’ discretion, and that the State has the obligation to provide support persons to victims under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which cannot be made optional. The Court directed NCPCR to formulate model guidelines after due consultation with the Central and State Governments for the States and Union Territories to frame their rules respecting the support persons under Section 39 of POCSO Act. And that NCPCR may formulate draft guidelines to be circulated to all the States, which may be finalised after due consideration of their comments and suggestions.
In Supriyo v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1348, a 366 pages long verdict, heavy on words, the 5-judge Constitution Bench of Dr DY Chandrachud, CJI and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, S. Ravindra Bhat, Hima Kohli, PS Narasimha, JJ., said in one voice that there was no fundamental right to marry and that the Supreme Court could not enter judicial legislation to read words into the Special Marriage Act and make it a gender-neutral legislation. The Court left it to Parliament to undertake this process. There were however some disagreements on certain points where Bhat, Kohli and Narasimha, JJ., formed the majority and Dr Chandrachud, CJI and Kaul, J were in dissent. The bench wrote 4 opinions on the Same Sex Marriage/Marriage Equality matter where they agreed on some points and disagreed on others.
Justice Bhat, who wrote for himself and Justice Kohli, refused to hold that a right to marry automatically flows in the manner from the provisions of Part III which the petitioner asserts. He said that “There cannot be a per se assertion that there exists an unqualified right to marry which requires treatment as a fundamental freedom.”
On the right to enter in a union, Justice Bhat, for himself and Justice Kohli, wrote that-
“An entitlement to legal recognition of the right to union — akin to marriage or civil union, or conferring legal status upon the parties to the relationship can be only through enacted law. A sequitur of this is that the court cannot enjoin or direct the creation of such regulatory framework resulting in legal status.”
Justice Bhat said that the exclusion of non-heterosexual couples from the fold of SMA cannot be held to have resulted in its ceasing to have any rationale, and thus becoming discriminatory in operation. On Gender neutral interpretation of SMA, Justice Bhat said that-
“Gender neutral interpretation, much like many seemingly progressive aspirations, may not really be equitable at times and can result in women being exposed to unintended vulnerability, especially when genuine attempts are made to achieve a balance, in a social order that traditionally was tipped in favour of cis-heterosexual men.”.
In Mohd. Ibrahim v. Chairman & Managing Director, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1341, an appeal on dismissal of petition claiming arbitrariness in the declining candidature as Assistant Engineer by the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), on the ground that appellant is colour blind, a division bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Aravind Kumar, JJ., directed the TANGEDCO to re-appoint appellant with appropriate grade and suitable department. The Court stated that “Reasonable accommodation thus, is “appropriate modification and adjustments” that should be taken by the employer, in the present case, without that duty being imposed with “disproportionate or undue burden”.
In CPL Ashish Kumar Chauhan v. Commanding Officer, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1220, a case where a radar operative/technician with the Indian Air Force (IAF) tested HIV positive after receiving a transfusion of virus-infected blood at a Military Hospital, the bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Dipankar Datta, JJ has issued a series of directions to the Central and State Governments to frame guidelines relating to diagnostic facilities, Antiretroviral therapy and opportunistic Infection Management, and welfare schemes for the people affected by HIV/AIDS. Observing that the facts established medical negligence, the Court held that the appellant was entitled to compensation, calculated at ââ€š¹ 1,54,73,000/- towards compensation on account of medical negligence of the respondents, who are held liable, for the injury suffered by the appellant. The Court directed that the amount shall be paid to the appellant within six weeks by the IAF, his employer; it is open to the IAF to seek reimbursement, to the extent of half the sum, from the Indian Army.
In Religare Finvest Ltd. v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1148, appeals against Delhi High Court’s order rejecting petition for quashing criminal proceedings against DBS Bank India Ltd. (DBS Bank), the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Aravind Kumar, JJ. held that the express mention of directors and other individuals means that prosecution or other criminal proceedings can continue to that extent only. Therefore, criminal liability can neither be attributed to DBS nor its directors, brought in after the amalgamation, whose appointments were approved by the RBI. The Court restricted the criminal liability to LVB officials, whose individual responsibility and accountability remained unaffected by the amalgamation. It also highlighted the fact that chargesheet filed by Delhi Police did not reveal any involvement of DBS Bank, and therefore, the High Court erred in not considering that very aspect.
In Ilavarasan v. State, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1120, an appeal against the Madras High Court order holding public declaration, a mandatory requirement for solemnization of marriage under Section 7-A of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the division bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Aravind Kumar, JJ., held that to superimpose the condition of a public declaration for solemnizing marriage, which is absent in Section 7-A of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, is not only narrowing the otherwise wide import of the statue but also would be violative of the rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Further, the Court overruled S. Balakrishnan Pandiyan v. Superintendent of Police, 2014 SCC OnLine Mad 8815 in S. Nagalingam v. Sivagami, (2001) 7 SCC 487.
In Rajo v. State of Bihar, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1068, a criminal petition filed by the convict for offences punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and Section 27 of the Arms Act, 1959, seeking premature release, the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Prashant Kumar Mishra, JJ. allowed the petition and directed the Remission Board to reconsider the application of the convict for premature release. The Court stated that sentencing is a judicial exercise of power. The Court reiterated that the execution of the awarded sentence is purely an execution function, which includes the grant of remission, commutation, pardon, reprieves, or suspension of sentence.
In Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd. v. National Highway Authority of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1063, a batch of civil appeals, a common question was to be dealt with relating to the interpretation of a contract condition which required the measurement of quantities used for payment for embankment construction with soil or with pond ash. The Court also dealt with the question of relevance of dissenting opinion in arbitration, the division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Aravind Kumar, JJ. observed that a dissenting opinion cannot be treated as an award if the majority award is set aside.
In Larsen Air Conditioning & Refrigration Co. v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 982, an appeal against Union of India v. Larsen Air Conditioning & Regrigeration Co., 2019 SCC OnLine All 7205, seeking to decide “whether the High Court erred in modifying the arbitral award to the extent of reducing the interest, from compound interest of 18% to 9% simple interest p.a.”, the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Dipankar Datta, JJ. set aside the said decision while reiterating the scope of interference with arbitral award.
Did You Know? Justice Bhat recused himself from hearing jailed activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea that he be placed under house custody in the Elgar-Parishad case.17
In Framing Guidelines Regarding Potential Mitigating Circumstances to be Considered while Imposing Death Sentences: In re, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1246, a suo motu case initiated to address the question as to whether the provision of pre-sentence hearing in capital punishment cases is mandatory or discretionary, the 3-judges Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit, CJ., and S. Ravindra Bhat*, Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., suggested that the matter be referred to a constitution Bench. Highlighting the apparent flaw of depriving the capital punishment convict of pre-sentence hearing, the Court held,
“In all cases where imposition of capital punishment is a choice of sentence, aggravating circumstances would always be on record, and would be part of the prosecution’s evidence, leading to conviction, whereas the accused can scarcely be expected to place mitigating circumstances on the record, for the reason that the stage for doing so is after conviction. This places the convict at a hopeless disadvantage, tilting the scales heavily against him.”
In Sidhique Kappan v. State of U.P., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1195, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, CJ and S. Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha, JJ has granted bail to Journalist Sidhique Kappan after considering the length of custody undergone by him ever since he was taken in custody on 06.10.2020. It is important to note that, last month, the Allahabad High Court had rejected his bail plea.
In CIT v. Khyati Realtors (P) Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1082, a case where the Revenue had challenged Bombay High Court’s judgment affirming Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT)’s order for writing off assessee’s â‚¹ 10 crores as a bad debt, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat* and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., has summarised the law on writing off a bad debt and has held that merely stating a bad and doubtful debt as an irrecoverable write off without the appropriate treatment in the accounts, as well as non-compliance with the conditions in Section 36(1)(vii), 36(2), and Explanation to Section 36(1)(vii) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 would not entitle the assessee to claim a deduction.
In Yogendra Prasad Mandal v. State of Bihar, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 998, an appeal filed to espouse the cause of Homeopathic Medical Professionals, the Division Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., directed the Bihar government to reconsider the stipulated percentage for filling up the posts of Medical Professionals.
In Sukash Chandra Shekhar v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 894 a highly controversial extortion case of about Rs. 200 crores in Delhi’s Tihar jail, the 3-judge Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat, and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., has directed conman Sukash Chandra to reveal names of the persons involved in the alleged crime syndicate.
“If we go by the assertions made in the affidavit in response, while being in jail, the petitioner was able to garner support from outsiders who paid Rs. 12.5 crores on his behalf to the public servants or other interested persons.”
In Manoj v. State of M.P., (2023) 2 SCC 353, a significant ruling regarding better evaluation of possibility for the accused to be reformed, the 3-judge Bench comprising UU Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat* and Bela. M. Trivedi, JJ., framed practical guidelines for the courts to adopt and implement for conviction of offenses that carry the possibility of the death sentence. The Court opined that the recent trend to call for a Probation Officer’s Report, is in fact a desperate attempt by the courts at the appellate stage, to obtain information on the accused. However, this too is too little, too late, and only offers a peek into the circumstances of the accused after conviction. Therefore, the Court made it mandatory for trial courts to call for psychiatric and psychological evaluation reports of the accused before awarding capital punishment. The Court observed,
“The unfortunate reality is that in the absence of well-documented mitigating circumstances at the trial level, the aggravating circumstances seem far more compelling, or overwhelming, rendering the sentencing court prone to imposing the death penalty, on the basis of an incomplete, and hence, incorrect application of the Bachan Singhi test.”
Adopting a humanitarian approach in Karan v. State of M.P., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 732, the 3-judge Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat, and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., allowed Project 39- A of the National Law University, Delhi, to have access to the appellant, a death row convict to interview him and conduct a psychological analysis in order to bring out mitigating circumstances.
In Haris Marine Products v. Export Credit Guarantee Corpn. Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 509, the 3-judge Bench comprising Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat*, Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha, JJ., reversed NCDRC’s findings where it had relied on third-party DGFT Guidelines to interpret the date of ‘despatch/shipment’ in the Single Buyer Exposure Policy of the respondent, and thereby deny the appellant’s claim. The respondent had treated the date on which loading commenced as the date of despatch/shipment’ to reject the appellant’s insurance claim. Deciding the case in favour of the appellant, the Court held,
“The term ‘despatch’ contained in the policy implied ‘completion’ of handing over of possession of the goods to the first carrier (the ship), and not the date on which the loading ‘commenced’ such an interpretation would give rise to an absurdity.”
[Note: Affirmed and Review Petition dismissed in Export Credit Guarantee Corpn. (ECGC) Ltd. v. Haris Marine Products, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1132.]
In Gopisetty Harikrishna v. State of A.P., 2022 SCC OnLine SC 654, a significant case where a person languished in jail for 2 years despite being granted bail by the Supreme Court due to misinterpreting the bail order by the trial court, the 4-judges Bench comprising of Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat, P.S. Narasimha and Sudhanshu Dhulia, JJ., issued directions to all the High Courts of the country to submit reports indicating status of cases where bail has been granted by the Supreme Court i.e. if any of such persons are deprived of the opportunity of being released on bail for some reason or the other. The Court opined that “This case portrays very sorry state of affairs.”
In United India Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Levis Strauss (India) (P) Ltd., (2022) 6 SCC 1, a case relating to double insurance, the 3-Judge Bench comprising of Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat* and Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha, JJ., reversed the impugned order of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) which allowed the insurance claim of Levi Strauss (India) Pvt. Ltd. which was repudiated by the insurer. The Bench opined,
“Levi could not claim more than what it did, and not in any case, more than what it received from Allianz.”
In Shaikh Ansar Ahmad Md. Husain v. State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 867, a case related to Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Housing and Slum Development Scam, the Division Bench of L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ., dismisses the appeal initiated by the accused contractors in Integrated Housing and Slum Development corruption case. The Bench observed,
“The constructions, according to the reports, were sub-standard — in respect of 100 such houses, so severe that the units were unusable. The main objective of providing housing to 1206 eligible and deserving families remains unfulfilled despite expenditure of substantial amounts.”
In Mohd. Rafiq v. State of M.P., (2021) 10 SCC 706, a division bench comprising of KM Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ., has reiterated the factors to be considered while deciding the question of whether in a given case, a homicide is murder, punishable under Section 302 IPC, or culpable homicide, of either description, punishable under Section 304 IPC. The Court explained that the use of the term “likely” in several places in respect of culpable homicide, highlights the element of uncertainty that the act of the accused may or may not have killed the person. Section 300 IPC which defines murder, however, refrains from the use of the term likely, which reveals absence of ambiguity left on behalf of the accused. The accused is for sure that his act will definitely cause death.
“It is often difficult to distinguish between culpable homicide and murder as both involve death. Yet, there is a subtle distinction of intention and knowledge involved in both the crimes. This difference lies in the degree of the act. There is a very wide variance of degree of intention and knowledge among both the crimes.”
In Commr. of Police v. Raj Kumar, (2021) 8 SCC 347, an appeal filed on being aggrieved by the Delhi High Court decision by which the respondents were directed to be considered for appointment to the post of Constable of Delhi Police, the division Bench of K.M. Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ. while addressing the matter, observed that,
“Public service — like any other, pre-supposes that the state employer has an element of latitude or choice on who should enter its service. Norms, based on principles, govern essential aspects such as qualification, experience, age, number of attempts permitted to a candidate, etc. These, broadly constitute eligibility conditions required of each candidate or applicant aspiring to enter public service.”
While deciding on whether a subsequent purchaser who steps into the shoes of an original allottee of a housing project have the same rights as that of the original allottee in Laureate Buildwell (P) Ltd. v. Charanjeet Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 479, the division bench of Uday Umesh Lalit, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ., gave major relief to homebuyers and held that rights of purchasers are the same as that of original allottees. The Court elaborated that, it cannot be said that a subsequent purchaser who steps into the shoes of an original allottee of a housing project in which the builder has not honoured its commitment to deliver the flat within a stipulated time, cannot expect any — even reasonable time, for the performance of the builder’s obligation. Such a conclusion would be arbitrary, given that there may be a large number- possibly thousands of flat buyers, waiting for their promised flats or residences; they surely would be entitled to all reliefs under the Act.
In Rahul S. Shah v. Jinendra Kumar Gandhi, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 341, the 3-judge bench of the former CJI SA Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhatt, JJ had issued detailed directions to all Courts dealing with suits and execution proceedings after the troubles of the decree holder in not being able to enjoy the fruits of litigation on account of inordinate delay caused during the process of execution of decree were brought to the Court’s notice.
In Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. Chief Minister, (2021) 8 SCC 1, a 5-judge bench comprising of Ashok Bhushan*, S.A. Nazeer, L. Nageswara Rao**, Hemant Gupta** and S. Ravindra Bhat**, JJ., quashed the much in debate Maratha Reservation and has held that the Maharashtra State Reservation (of seats for admission in educational institutions in the State and for appointments in the public services and posts under the State) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 as amended in 2019 granting 12% and 13% reservation for Maratha community in addition to 50% social reservation is not covered by exceptional circumstances as contemplated by Constitution Bench in Indra Sawhney’s case.
“To change the 50% limit is to have a society which is not founded on equality but based on caste rule. The democracy is an essential feature of our Constitution and part of our basic structure. If the reservation goes above 50% limit which is a reasonable, it will be slippery slope, the political pressure, make it hardly to reduce the same. Thus, answer to the question posed is that the percentage of 50% has been arrived at on the principle of reasonability and achieves equality as enshrined by Article 14 of which Articles 15 and 16 are facets.”
After noticing common deficiencies which occur in the course of criminal trials and certain practices adopted by trial courts in criminal proceedings as well as in the disposal of criminal cases and causes, in Criminal Trials Guidelines Regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies, In re, (2021) 10 SCC 598, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhatt, JJ has directed all High Courts to take expeditious steps to incorporate the Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021 as part of the rules governing criminal trials, and ensure that the existing rules, notifications, orders and practice directions are suitably modified, and promulgated (wherever necessary through the Official Gazette) within 6 months.
Noticing that the summary trials of complaints filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 are being routinely converted to summons trials in a “mechanical manner”, in Expeditious Trial of Cases Under Section 138 OF N.I. Act 1881, In re, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 325, the Constitution bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., directed the High Courts to issue practice directions to the Magistrates for recording cogent and sufficient reasons while doing so.
[Note: Expeditious Trial of Cases Under Section 138 OF N.I. Act 1881, In re (Supra) was Followed in Saregama (India) Ltd. v. Next Radio Ltd., (2022) 1 SCC 701]
A day before Justice Bobde’s retirement, the 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., in Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic: In re, , has taken suo motu cognisance of the “grim” situation of the country hit by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and has asked the Central Government to report on,
The existence or otherwise and requirement of setting up of a coordinating body that would consider allocation of COVID resources in a consultative manner (with the involvement of concerned States and Union 3 Territories).
Considering declaration of essential medicines and medical equipment including the Drugs, oxygen and vaccination as essential commodities in relation to COVID.
In respect of coordination of logistical support for inter-State and Intra-State transportation and distribution of the above resources.
In Sushila Aggarwal v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2020) 5 SCC 1, a 5-judge bench comprising of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah*, and S. Ravindra Bhat**, JJ., unanimously ruled that the protection granted to a person under Section 438 Cr.PC should not invariably be limited to a fixed period; it should inure in favour of the accused without any restriction on time. Justice Bhat in his opinion stated that “it would not be in the larger interests of society if the court, by judicial interpretation, limits the exercise of that power: the danger of such an exercise would be that in fractions, little by little, the discretion, advisedly kept wide, would shrink to a very narrow and unrecognizably tiny portion, thus frustrating the objective behind the provision, which has stood the test of time, these 46 years.”
In Mahonar Lal Jat v. State of Rajasthan, (2021) 14 SCC 105, a case where Direct Recruits to the newly created posts of Tax Assistants in the Finance Department of the Government of Rajasthan claimed seniority over Departmental Promotees, a division bench comprising of Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ held that the seniority of the promotees given on the basis of their dates of appointment was justified by Rule 27 of the Rajasthan Commercial Taxes Subordinate Services (General Branch) Rules, 1975.
“There may be various reasons why the ultimate appointment of one batch of recruits may be delayed: challenges to some part of the recruitment process (such as shortlisting, calling of candidates for interviews etc.), during which period, a subsequent recruitment may be undertaken. To forestall any apprehensions as to which of the appointees would be senior, and if those from the earlier process are appointed later, the proviso clarifies that candidates from the earlier process would rank senior, despite the main rule speaking of a date of appointment based seniority.”
In BK Ravichandra v. Union of India, (2021) 14 SCC 703, a case where the Union of India was sitting over certain lands since 33 years without any authority, the bench of Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ directed the Union of India to hand back possession of the suit lands to the appellants, within three months and held that “33 years (based upon cessation of the Union’s legal possession) is a long enough time, even in India, to be kept away from one’s property.”
“The courts’ role is to act as the guarantor and jealous protector of the people’s liberties: be they assured through the freedoms, and the right to equality and religion or cultural rights under Part III, or the right against deprivation, in any form, through any process other than law.”
In Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India, (2020) 4 SCC 727, a 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra,* Vineet Saran and S. Ravindra Bhat,** JJ., upheld the constitutional validity of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, and said that a court can grant anticipatory bail only in cases where a prima facie case is not made out. In the unanimous verdict, Justice Mishra penned the opinion for himself and Justice Saran whereas Justice Bhat wrote a separate but concurring opinion.
While clarifying the position of anticipatory bail in cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, S Ravindra Bhat**, J., in his concurring yet separate judgment brought into light, the forgotten sayings of greatest reformers of the Indian History reflecting upon the evil of caste distinctions.
“Kabir, the great saint poet, for instance, in his composition, remarked:
If thou thinkest the Maker distinguished castes:
Birth is according to these penalties for deeds.
Born a Sudra, you die a Sudra;
It is only in this world of illusion that you assume the sacred thread.
If birth from a Brahmin makes you a Brahmin,
Why did you not come by another way?
If birth from a Turk makes you a Turk,
Why were you not circumcised in the womb?…
Saith Kabir, renounce family, caste, religion, and nation, and live as one”
Guru Nanak, for instance, stated [Guru Granth Saheb, p. 83]: “Caste and dynastic pride are condemnable notions; the one Master shelters all existence. Anyone arrogating superiority to himself halt be disillusioned. Saith Nanak : superiority shall be determined by God.”
Making significant observations on the principle of Fraternity, Justice Bhat observed that, “When the Framers of the Constitution began their daunting task, they had before them a formidable duty and a stupendous opportunity : of forging a nation, out of several splintered sovereign States and city States, with the blueprint of an idea of India. What they envisioned was a common charter of governance and equally a charter for the people. The placement of the concept of fraternity, in this context was neither an accident, nor an idealised emulation of the western notion of fraternity, which finds vision in the French and American Constitutions and charters of independence. It was a unique and poignant reminder of a society riven with acute inequalities : more specifically, the practice of caste discrimination in its virulent form, where the essential humanity of a large mass of people was denied by society — i.e. untouchability.”
In Arjun Panditrao Khotkar v. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal, (2020) 7 SCC 1, a reference dealing with the interpretation of Section 65B of the Evidence Act, 1872 that deals with admissibility of electronic records, a 3-judge bench comprising of RF Nariman, S. Ravindra Bhat and V. Ramasubramanian, JJ., held that the certificate required under Section 65B(4) is a condition precedent to the admissibility of evidence by way of electronic record.
“When it comes to criminal trials, it is important to keep in mind the general principle that the accused must be supplied all documents that the prosecution seeks to rely upon before commencement of the trial, under the relevant sections of the CrPC.”
In Saurav Yadav v. State of U.P., (2021) 4 SCC 542, a 3-judge bench of UU Lalit*, S. Ravindra Bhat** and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., while deciding the petition challenging the appointment of General category female candidates who had secured lower marks as Constables in Uttar Pradesh Police, ruled against the U.P. government and clarified the relationship between horizontal and vertical reservations.
“The open category is not a ‘quota’, but rather available to all women and men alike.”
Justice Bhat in his concurring opinion opined that
“Reservations, both vertical and horizontal, are method of ensuring representation in public services. These are not to be seen as rigid “slots”, where a candidate’s merit, which otherwise entitles her to be shown in the open general category, is foreclosed, as the consequence would be, if the state’s argument is accepted. Doing so, would result in a communal reservation, where each social category is confined within the extent of their reservation, thus negating merit. The open category is open to all, and the only condition for a candidate to be shown in it is merit, regardless of whether reservation benefit of either type is available to her or him.”
While holding Section 13(2) of the Chhattisgarh Rent Control Act as unconstitutional in Rajendra Diwan v. Pradeep Kumar Ranibala, (2019) 20 SCC 143, a full judge bench of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ., held that State legislature can’t enact a law that touches the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
“While exercising power under Article 136 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court does not re-appreciate evidence which has been appreciated by the Trial Court and the High Courts, unless extraordinary circumstances exist. It is only where the High Court has completely missed the real point requiring adjudication or has missed or ignored the relevant material, would the Supreme Court be justified in getting into evidence for the purpose of preventing grave injustice to a party.”
Notable Judgements at High Court
Did You Know? Justice Ravindra Bhat, when he was a judge in the Delhi High Court, upheld a decision by Central Information Commission (CIC) that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and therefore judges’ assets should be made public.18
While deciding constitutional validity of Rule 266(3) of Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Rules, 1996 as amended which prescript a condition added to what was previously existing and what NCTE deems appropriate for admission in Nilesh Kumar Purohit v. Stale of Rajasthan, 2019 SCC OnLine Raj 755, a division bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat,* C.J. and Dinesh Mehta, J., held that classification (i.e. of insisting that only the candidates possessing graduate level qualification in particular subjects alone can apply for those subjects as Teachers in the concerned levels of education) are neither discriminator nor arbitrary.
In Meera Kumari v. State of Rajasthan, 2019 SCC OnLine Raj 587, writs petitions related to common acquisition proceedings whereby the lands comprising the village of Kyari are proposed to be acquired for the public purpose of a micro irrigation project, a division bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat,* C.J. and Dinesh Mehta, J., held that the documents produced by the respondent authorities clearly show that the petitioner had consented to the resettlement plan in village Bhimana, to Kyari villagers and had signed on the plan, therefore, the respondents authorities decision cannot be termed “arbitrary or unprincipled”. The Court further opined that “the available area, the area under cultivation and total unoccupied area are also to be reckoned while considering the acquisition and allotment of land.”
While striking down a government notification made under Section 26A of the Drugs Act, to restrict the manufacture and usage of an essential drug likely to be affecting the health of pregnant woman and youth mothers in BGP Products v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 12928, a division bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat* and A.K. Chawla, JJ., observed that
“This court notices that the decision of prohibiting a country wide existing manufacturing base for Oxytocin, a life-saving drug (through the over hundred private licensed units spread across the country), for over three decades or so, on the one hand and reserving it to the public sector through a single manufacturing entity, which has no previous record in its production, is thus fraught with potential adverse consequences. One of the important directive principles of State Policy (Article 47) is the that “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties..”. Maternal welfare too is considered a directive principle (Article 42). Correspondingly, the right of women, generally and pregnant women and young mothers in particular, to have a safe post-partum recovery and avoid risk of haemorrhaging that can be potentially fatal, is an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The potential impact may or may not be direct; even if it leads to a few incidents, that would be a grave consequence contrary to public interest.”
In Pushp Sharma v. D.B. Corpn. Ltd., 2018 SCC OnLine Del 11537, a Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat* and A.K. Chawla, JJ. addressed the blazing issue of “Cobrapost” sting operation all over the electronic and print media by addressing two appeals in a suit for permanent injunction.
“Democracy presupposes robustness in debates, which often turns the spotlight on public figures and public institutions-like media houses, journals and editors.”
In Emdigital Ltd. v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8939, a division bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat* and Yogesh Khanna, JJ., upheld the grant of tender to an Israel based system integrator (second respondent herein), for procurement of stabilized Remote Control Guns, the end user being the Indian Navy and Indian Coast guard.
In Sanjeet Singh Kaila v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8170
“(…)There is honor in A Soldier you hear it when he talks.
There is courage in A Soldier you can see it in his eyes,
There is loyalty in A Soldier that he will not compromise.
There is something in A Soldier that makes him stand apart,
There is strength in A Soldier that beats from his heart.
A Soldier isn’t a title any man can be hired to do,
A Soldier is the soul of that man buried deep inside of you.
A Soldier’s job isn’t finished after an 8 hour day or a 40 hour week,
A Soldier is always A Soldier even while he sleeps.
A Soldier serves his country first and his life is left behind, A Soldier has to sacrifice what comes first in a civilian’s mind…”
A Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat*, Deepa Sharma, JJ., held that though the members of the Armed forces consent to the risk that comes with their enrollment in the forces, one is still entitled to a safe workplace with standard equipment. In the words of Justice Bhat,
“(…) none can be insensible to the piquancy in the pageant of life; more so, those who enlist in the service of their country in its armed forces. Yet to fling that to their teeth when accused of exposing them to more than the risks they had bargained (as the HAL does, here) is to belittle their spirit of sacrifice, which this court finds insensitive, even offensive. A soldier or an air warrior like the petitioner can be expected to be aware of the “normal” risks that he undertakes to accept in the course of a career that is removed from the ordinary. That assumption of risk at the same time raises the threshold bar on his employer and those assigned by the employer to maintain the standards in respect of the workplace and the technical equipment, which such officers and warriors have to handle and live with.”
In Mini Appa Kanda Swami v. M. Indra, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 5312, a Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and Deepa Sharma*, JJ., held that demand for privacy by the spouse is not cruelty and also reiterated that High Court lacks the jurisdiction to dissolve a marriage on the doctrine of “irretrievable breakdown” under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act.
“Privacy is a fundamental human right. (…) So when a woman enters into matrimony, it is the duty of the family members of her matrimonial home to provide her with some privacy.”
While directing the CPIO to release the information sought by the respondent applicant about the declaration of assets (and not the contents of the declarations, as that was not sought for) and holding the office of the CJI as a ‘public authority’ in CPIO, Supreme Court of India v. Subhash Chandra Agarwal, 2009 SCC OnLine Del 2714, significant remarks were made by Justice Ravindra Bhat*, about the office of judges and exemption provided under Section 8(1)(j) RTI Act, 2005.
“…the protection afforded by Section 8(1)(j) to Judges is of no lesser quality than that given to other public servants, in this regard. To hold otherwise: would be incongruous, because, members of the higher judiciary are held to self imposed obligatory Constitutional standards, and their asset disclosures are held (by this judgment), to be “information” held by the CJI, a public authority, under the Act; yet, they would be deprived of the protection that the same enactment extends to all those covered by it.”
Rejecting the claim of Bayer that the drug manufactured and sold by Cipla under the name of ‘Soranib’, was infact a spurious drug under 17-B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and not a generic drug as contended in Bayer Corpn. v. Union of India, 2009 SCC OnLine Del 2469, a single-judge bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat,* J., held that “this Court is constrained to observe that the present litigation was what may be characterized as a speculative foray; an attempt to ‘tweak’ public policies through Court mandated regimes.” The instant matter discusses at length about patent linkage in Indian context and how imperative it is to balance monopoly rights of any patent holder and the public at large.
Justice Bhat’s tenure in the legal sphere was marked not only by his exceptional judicial career but also by his significant contributions on the administrative side. His multifaceted involvement in various committees and roles exemplified his commitment to improving the legal system’s functionality and efficiency.
As a Member and Chairman of several crucial committees, Justice Bhat played a pivotal role in enhancing the administrative aspects of the legal landscape. Notable positions he held include membership on the Administrative and General Supervision Committee and the Building Maintenance and Construction Committee. His contributions extended beyond membership, as he also served as Chairman of the Court Development Planning Committee, which was responsible for shaping the future of the court infrastructure. Additionally, he chaired the Committee tasked with examining the pendency of cases in the Delhi High Court and the Committee that advocated for providing essential infrastructure for the subordinate judiciary.
Justice Bhat’s dedication to the legal system extended to his role as Chairman of the Delhi State Legal Service Authority, where he worked towards ensuring access to justice for all sections of society. Furthermore, his involvement as a Member of the Editorial Board for the book “Courts of India: Past to Present,” published by the Supreme Court of India, underlined his commitment to preserving the historical legacy of the Indian legal system.
Justice Bhat’s impact stretched beyond the national boundaries as well. He served as a Member of the “High-Level Committee to review the Institutionalization of Arbitration Mechanism in India,” a role that contributed to the enhancement of India’s arbitration infrastructure.
Emphasis on Constitutional Values in Legal Education
“Even the darker parts of constitutional history must be taught to every generation.”20
Justice Bhat emphasized on the importance of teaching all aspects of constitutional history to each generation during the inaugural lecture of the ‘Constitutional Culture Lecture Series,’ an event organized by the Centre for Constitutional Values at the BML Munjal University School of Law.21
While stressing on the significance of incorporating constitutional values into legal education, he said “there is a centrality to legal education because one has to make an internal sense of the Constitution in the daily lives of the people.” While he acknowledged that teaching constitutional freedoms to young children might be challenging, he stressed that essential concepts such as freedom of speech and expression, the role of the Election Commission, and the mechanisms for holding the government accountable should be introduced. This early education can create awareness and help students become informed citizens.
Justice Bhat provided concrete examples of how constitutional values intersect with historical events. He cited the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as an instance where constitutional values related to the right to liberty, freedom of speech, and the right to hold peaceful assembly converge. He emphasized that such historical events should be included in the curriculum to ensure that constitutional values resonate with people.
Legal Aid for Juveniles
During the launch function of a book on ‘Juvenile Justice System: Manual for Stakeholders’ edited by Senior Advocate Vijay Hansaria, while stressing on the importance of prioritizing children’s well-being and development in our country, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat said that when “we claim that children are the future of the country, then why should we go with begging bowl to seek money for their welfare.”22
Justice Bhat highlighted that simply regarding children as the future of the nation is insufficient; it is essential to move beyond relying on the charity of organizations or corporations. Instead, he emphasized the need to sensitize both society and government to allocate more substantial budgets and increase spending on initiatives that benefit children.
Justice Bhat, who heads the Supreme Court Committee on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare, concern over every institution in the juvenile justice system working below its strength, during the inaugural session of its two-day national consultation organised by the Committee.23 Justice Bhat said that “these vacancies are actually very debilitating and they paralyze the system. Without the full strength of the child welfare committee or the appropriate available quorum, the committees is unable to function. …Unless we establish and come out with a common protocol which makes it binding upon all the states, these institutions will become just paper tigers. They will be meaningless if you have to provide for the protection of children.”
Justice S. Ravindra Bhat is set to retire today, i.e., 20-10-2023; his journey through the legal world is nothing short of exemplary.. His contributions on the administrative side of the legal system were multifaceted and essential in improving the efficiency, transparency, and infrastructure of the judiciary. His legacy will continue to inspire young legal minds and professionals in India as it serves as a source of inspiration for those who seek to make a positive impact on the legal system and the society it serves.
“The Rule of Law can be maintained in its letter and spirit only when we have judges like Justice Bhat, he is and has been a true custodian of the Constitutional values.”24
*Judge who has penned the judgment.
**Judge who has penned a concurring opinion.
14. Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1224 OF 2017, order dated 19-10-2023.
15. Civil Appeal No. 1420 of 2023, order dated 19-10-2023.
16. Civil Writ Petition No. 1156 of 2021, order dated 9-10-2023.